Drones in Real Estate: Uses, Challenges

DroneBase Founder & CEO Dan Burton reveals how the real estate business can take advantage of the power of drones, but also touches on the pitfalls of this technology.
Dan Burton, Founder & CEO, DroneBase

The construction industry has undergone substantial changes over the past decade. Due to a considerable labor shortage, projects take longer to complete and development costs are constantly increasing. However, new technologies such as automation and artificial intelligence are transforming the industry. Drones can also have versatile roles in the real estate business.

Commercial Property Executive talked with Dan Burton, founder & chief executive officer of drone service provider DroneBase, about how these unmanned aerial vehicles can help reduce risks, cut costs and condense the time it takes to complete a project. Burton also speaks about the main drawbacks of using these tools. 

How can real estate companies capitalize on data collected by drones?

Burton: Drones are powerful tools for both residential and commercial real estate having similar and unique use cases. For residential realtors, drones can capture attractive aerial photos and videos that best highlight the property’s features and the surrounding area. This is helpful for online buyers who want to familiarize themselves with the area of their potential new home. In commercial real estate or REITs, drones can offer exciting marketing materials, inspect the property for maintenance or assist in site selection.

How reliable is the data captured by drones?

Burton: Data captured by drones is very reliable and always improving as technology is innovated. We have a 0.5 percent re-flight rate and have completed over 100,000 commercial missions. Innovations over the past few years, like smarter ground control points, real-time kinematics and post-processed kinematics have helped drone analysis go from a quick-and-dirty, relative analysis accurate to a few feet to a survey-grade, absolute analysis accurate to centimeters or less.

What other technologies do you use to enhance the power of drone data?

Burton: We’re seeing more powerful sensors help enhance drone data. Thermal imagery flights, while currently more expensive and specialized than regular professional drone flights, can help commercial realtors or property managers detect a leak in seconds. Other sensors, like for methane, can quickly determine dangerous gas leaks. As technology continues to improve, these sensors will be less and less expensive and more accessible to more property managers.

What are the downsides of using drones in the real estate business? 

Burton: I would say one of the pitfalls real estate businesses can run into is manning a drone fleet themselves. New models with crucial improvements hit the market on a regular basis, making it challenging for some companies to keep up to date with the latest equipment necessary to pull off in-house drone operations effectively. There’s also training and insurance that can prove costly and time-consuming. 

How do drones help cut the time it takes to complete a project?

Burton: Drones offer construction companies the ability to quickly survey a worksite, track progress, communicate to stakeholders and measure stockpiles. Rather than doing this on the ground, drones can speed up the legwork and offer these insights quickly and affordably, saving everyone time and money.

Do drones help reduce risks on construction sites? How exactly?

Burton: Yes, drones do reduce risks on construction sites. It’s often important for these sites to have aerial images to monitor progress, but without a drone, it would have to be done manually. It’s much safer to send a drone in the air than a person or camera to the highest point, whether on a crane or a nearby building.

Tell us your views about the evolution of drone technology in the future. 

Burton: The future of drones is heading toward a greater emphasis on both thermal imagery, mentioned previously, and light detection and ranging (LiDAR) sensors. LiDAR technology can provide thorough, survey-quality images by scanning large swaths of land in a matter of minutes, but right now, it is too expensive to be scalable for most enterprises. If the barriers to these sensor technologies are lowered, more and more businesses will have the potential to improve the speed and accuracy of their monitoring and repair processes, benefiting the real estate industry at large.

Image courtesy of DroneBase