Once seen as more of a novelty, drones, also known as unmanned aircraft vehicles (UAVs), are now considered an essential asset for various industries, and their capabilities are only expected to grow.
The first pilotless vehicles were developed by the British and Americans during World War I, though they were never used in combat. Evolving significantly since then, drones now deliver packages for Amazon, capture the perfect aerial shots for TV and film, and assist in sophisticated military surveillance.
Drones are also proving their worth for property management. From roof inspections to marketing to cleaning, drone technology has innovated to fulfill several property management needs.
For property management, drones can complete many time-consuming or more dangerous tasks traditionally done by people while providing in-depth data and reports on the findings.
“In the past, it was virtually impossible to gain a bird’s eye perspective without the use of a helicopter or plane,” says Cale Prokopf, president of RoofTech Consulting, which uses a drone to assist with inspection, forensic investigation, quality assurance, and data collection of multistory structures. “Taller structures would require the use of costly man lifts. Now we can safely and cost-effectively collect that data in real-time in a matter of minutes. With the use of our drone, we have been able to collect high-definition imagery and 4K videos of building components likely not seen since they were originally constructed.”
Among the top uses for drones in property management are:
- Building inspections and property analysis. “Drones can provide the ability to take high-resolution imagery on a roof or façade, so you don’t have to climb up on that roof,” says Jose Giraldo, general manager of the property solution division at Zeitview, which utilizes a drone for site inspections. Along with increasing safety, drone inspections can save time when compared to walking the surface of, say, a 500,000-square-foot roof. “The drone itself is a great tool for capturing imagery, but you can derive a lot of data from that,” Giraldo says. “You can get roof measurements or a condition analysis. Coupling the drone data with other software can detect up to 70 different anomalies, such as water ponding, rust, or overhanging vegetation.”
Prokopf says drones can also provide imaging and elevation files. “When combined, these files can be used to generate larger, more detailed images and even 3D modeling,” Prokopf says. “We often use our drone to generate entire elevation drawings of buildings through computer-aided drafting [CAD]. Before this technology, elevation drawings were generated by hand sketches, photos, and measuring, which was much more involved, time-consuming, and less accurate.”
- Cleaning. From floor disinfection to exterior cleaning, drones can complete a variety of cleaning and sanitizing tasks. “Particularly for the exterior of tall buildings, industrial spraying drones allow for a safer, smarter, and more efficient process,” says IREM Innovator-in-Residence James Scott. “So you can facilitate the cleaning of windows or the side of the building, and you don’t have to have someone alongside the building on a rig blowing in the wind.”
- Marketing. Drones can capture images that are used to sell and lease buildings. “The marketing capabilities that drones bring are significant because they provide a wonderful vision of the real estate at a different level, and people can use it to sell in a different way,” says Scott.
- Remote monitoring. For buildings under construction or facilities that are not currently occupied, drone surveillance allows property managers to remotely check on the progress or safety of a site.
While drone technology is not new for property managers, this tech adoption, like that for other forms of tech, accelerated greatly during the COVID-19 pandemic. During a time of social distancing, property managers saw the potential of contactless cleaning or inspections. “Really, it was that safety factor—that we can quickly go on-site, get the drone up, and have that contactless inspection,” Giraldo says.
The interest that was sparked during COVID continues to grow. One area receiving increased attention is thermal imagery. “Thermal is increasing in demand because it provides a good sense of moisture under the membrane of the roof, which is probably one of the most expensive parts of the building,” Giraldo says.
“If you can be proactive in detecting moisture under the membrane, it will save you a lot of money in the future.”
Scott expects cleaning to be another drone capability that gains more traction with property managers. Additionally, he expects drone deliveries to increasingly affect property managers and encourages them to consider how they will accommodate the increased drone activity. Asks Scott: “How can property managers implement a drone landing pad on their building that provides for a safe and secure delivery system? It might not be today or tomorrow, but this technology is coming, and property managers need to ask themselves how they will manage the drone deliveries for their building.”
Like any form of technology, drones aren’t perfect. One hurdle is mother nature. “Drones have limitations in extreme weather,” says Giraldo. “If it’s too hot, the drone can overheat. The drone cannot fly if it is below freezing or too windy—between 22 and 25 mile-per-hour winds. It’s much harder to control the drone, and if you’re in an inspection next to a building and there is high wind, you wouldn’t want that drone to drift into that building.”
While pricing varies greatly, drone services and any extra equipment used, such as thermal imaging cameras, can be expensive. Hiring an in-house drone operator comes with its own price tag.
Weighing these considerations against the benefits of drone technology is becoming more common for property managers. And as drone capabilities continue to develop and improve, this is one technology that property managers will be getting more comfortable with.