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A sleek, spidery drone lifts off from Robert Nicholson's driveway, strafing the front of his colonial-style home while he tracks the vehicle's flight via a handheld view screen. The high-definition footage recorded by the drone's swiveling camera gives the landscape a cinematic quality, potentially catching the eager eye of a prospective buyer should the owner put his house up for sale.

Nicholson, founder of Aerial Visual Technologies and a recently minted real estate agent with Keller Williams, has no plans to sell anytime soon. But according to Nicholson and other area agents, drone photography and videos are becoming a potent industry tool — perhaps the most important innovation to enter real estate marketing since the internet — providing a visually compelling advantage in a marketplace congested with static two-dimensional photographs.

"With drones we can scale a property, put it into a video, and give you exact measurements based on GPS coordinates," Nicholson said. "As a seller, you can make it more functional for a buyer to say, 'This is what I'm getting.' In today's society, I have about 25 seconds to get your attention. You have to give people something different, because they get tired of the same thing."

Real estate professionals are employing these airborne cameras to produce swooping shots of homes or commercial buildings, showcasing properties from dramatic angles previously limited to expensive helicopter fly-bys.

As the technology is still relatively novel, using drones can raise an agent's profile and bring much-needed excitement to a listing, said Matt Gunn, owner of Gunn Photography Services, a Parma-based commercial drone company with a focus on real estate.

"If you have 1,000 homes, you'll have maybe 30 using aerial photos (in their listings)," Gunn said. "Drone photography is a unique way to market a property."

Gunn's company also made a teaser video using a drone for commercial brokerage firm Avison Young. The two-minute clip offers a bird's-eye view of the University Square shopping complex in University Heights, illuminating the 10-acre parcel's attributes as a mixed-use boon. Voice narration, graphics and low-key music lend the video an additional professional polish aimed at would-be development partners.

"Drone footage helps us hype the property that we're marketing," said Avison Young vice president David Horowitz. "We want to stand out and catch people's attention."

The technology has practical benefits as well. Cleveland production company Aerial Agents created a video of a large Avison-brokered industrial property on Cass Avenue, adding graphics to outline specific areas of the parcel ready for redevelopment. Still shots of the highlighted parcel were then used in the firm's printed marketing materials.

"It's geared toward developers who could assess the parcel and know what they have to work with," Horowitz said. "There's not many brokerages using videos with different angles and zooms."

Most homebuyers begin their search online, so differentiating properties through a high-quality "virtual tour" is key, drone proponents said. Keller Williams' Nicholson points to a ground-level photo of a lakefront colonial from a real estate magazine. While there's nothing wrong with a traditional curb-appeal shot, some choice overhead images would make the property pop in the mind of a buyer, he said.

"With a drone you could see the lake, the horizon, and the beach that sits behind the house," said Nicholson. "But you can't because this house looks like every other house on the block."

Drone imagery also saves time, as it displays details of a property a buyer may not glean until they get on site.

"Maybe a family doesn't want to deal with an in-ground pool because of the maintenance," Nicholson said. "If I'm a buyer's agent, I don't want to drag them to 15 different houses they're not going to want."

Howard Hanna real estate agent Susan Smith said drones are best suited for expansive single properties or sprawling developments. For instance, Howard Hanna flew a drone over the Bridgeport luxury home complex in Mayfield Heights, giving viewers insight on individual dwellings along with the overall layout of the neighborhood.

"It's exciting because it's interactive," said Smith. "You can start from a home's entrance and literally pull someone through the property."

For all its benefits, a drone can't shoot all the photography and video needed to market a listing. The technology is not well suited for interiors of smaller spaces, or properties shrouded by trees and other buildings, noted Gunn of Gunn Photography.

"I don't do interiors unless it's for large warehouses where I can fly safely inside," he said. "I've been asked to do mansions, but the risk isn't worth the reward. I don't want to crash into somebody's chandelier."

Realtors hiring a drone photographer should be aware of legal and safety risks, area experts said. Any professional company will have a Federal Aviation Administration Part 107 UAV Operator's certificate as well as liability insurance that specifically covers piloting a drone for commercial photography purposes. The National Association of Realtors even offers a guide to help agents navigate the ever-growing realm of flying cameras.

Regarding privacy concerns, Nicholson will inform a client's neighbors if he's shooting a house, and will make sure to block particular lines of site — if there are children outside, for example — upon request.

With the spring home buying season underway, drones will continue to be a valuable asset utilized by the forward-thinking real estate company, he said.

"This technology is not going away; it's only getting better," Nicholson said. "Sooner or later, drones or going to take over the industry. It's one of those things where you either jump on or you get left behind."



11/05/2018

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Advancements in the robotics field are helping to transform a number of industries, construction being one of them. Companies that build things can expect to see a host of new machines that perform a variety of tasks -- adding efficiency to construction projects as well as reducing injuries to human workers.

"More and more construction companies are beginning to realize and appreciate the value of robots at the jobsite," said Al Cervero, senior vice president, construction, mining & utility, at the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM).

"Robots not only increase precision but also improve working conditions from an ease and safety perspective," Cervero said. "Unmanned and autonomous machines will soon become the norm. In fact, these types of machines are being produced and sold by almost every manufacturer," that is part of the AEM, according to Cervero.

Automation is primarily seen today in mining and farming, Cervero said, because these sites are constant from day-to-day and year-to-year. "With farming, whether the job is planting, fertilizing or irrigating, each step is similar to the previous step," he said.

In construction, automation is more challenging due to the complexity of the work and the fact that every site and every project is constantly changing.

"In fact, you could potentially have multiple fleets of different machines that are all working simultaneously on all aspects of the job," Cervero said. "Drones could also be considered robots in a way and are frequently being adapted to many construction projects to map, document and in some cases control the site itself."

A construction project is paid, in many cases, by completion. Data analytics and drones are being used today to map the progress and completion of a phase, and then to map the next phase, Cervero said. "Data analytics and telematics are also used to understand how a day-to-day process on a construction site can be improved and made more efficient," he said.

These technological advancements have made it possible for construction machinery to constantly transmit all kinds of data to cloud-based systems, while the cloud-based systems are simultaneously communicating back to the machines to understand the next step of the building process, Cervero said.

Wearable devices "are another clear indication of how new technology works with robotic/autonomous construction equipment," Cervero said. "Wearables can identify safe and unsafe locations on the jobsite and provide overhead display of a project via augmented reality that digitizes real-time plans for comparative and next phase planning."

AEM is holding its CONEXPO-CON/AGG show March 7-11 in Las Vegas, where many of these newer technologies will be on display. The exhibit will feature everything from autonomous and remote-controlled machinery to the first-ever 3D-printed excavator. Other products include advanced drones for mapping, wearable radio frequency identification vests, visual augmented reality display hard hats, solar-powered roadways, and self-healing asphalt.

No, robots won't take your job -- just part of it. 



11/05/2018

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BHP Billiton is trialling drones fitted with military-grade cameras to provide real-time aerial footage and 3D maps of mining sites. Why is the company turning to drones for this important task?

Across industries, the potential for drones or unmanned aerial vehicles is starting to be realised. From military drones to children’s toys, drones are making a big impact. The mining industry is no different, and drones are already being used throughout the world for maintenance and exploration activities.

Companies are turning to drones for a number of reasons, such as improved safety, increased efficiency and cost savings. This has become particularly attractive in recent years, as depressed commodity prices have forced companies to search for ways to increase productivity.

One of the first companies to begin using drones was BHP Billiton, a world leader in the production of iron ore, metallurgical coal and copper. The company operates predominantly in the Americas and Australia, with a workforce of more than 60,000.

BHP has now been using drones for three years, throughout various operations in its Australian mines, and has recently started trialling their use in mineral surveillance. So what makes them so ideal for the job of surveying?

Maintenance, monitoring and mapping

BHP first started trialling the use of drones in 2015 at its Queensland sites, and has since used them in a number of different ways. “At some of our coal mines in Queensland, they’re used to ensure areas are clear before a blast takes place and to track fumes post-blast,” says BHP head of production for mining BMA Frans Knox. “They’re also used to improve road safety on sites, by monitoring traffic, road conditions and hazards. At our Olympic Dam mine in South Australia, the maintenance team use them to help inspect overhead cranes, towers and roofs of tall buildings to avoid working at height.”

The company is now testing specially adapted drones to conduct mineral surveys. Together BHP Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) and BHP Mitsui Coal (BMC) have seven coal mines in the Bowen Basin in Central Queensland, operating as Queensland Coal, with a resource of 11.1 billion tonnes of high-grade hard coking coal. Mineral surveillance drones can help build 3D maps of these mine sites, allowing BHP to constantly monitor the mines’ progress and safety. They will also help to identify minerals for potential extraction by looking at mineral patterns.

“We’ve been trialling drones fitted with military-grade cameras to provide real-time aerial footage and 3D maps of our sites,” says Knox. “This is far cheaper than using planes for survey work, and the savings at our sites in Queensland alone are estimated to be A$5m a year.”

These drone-based surveillance systems are being developed alongside supercomputers that will allow BHP to analyse the site and make decisions at far greater speeds than previously.

“With drones, we now gather more information about our sites than ever before,” Knox says. “We can more quickly and accurately measure our stockpiles, review compliance to design against mine plans and understand where we need to make changes to improve safety or boost productivity.”

The drones are coming

Outside of site maintenance and development, BHP also expects drones to play a big role in its community work. This includes a current project where drones are being used to map areas of cultural heritage close to the mine sites.

“For me, the bigger picture is what this technology allows us to do that could never have been done before, and for us that means being able to share and preserve cultural heritage that might otherwise have been lost,” BHP heritage manager Daniel Bruckner said. “We’re now able to share all our footage with local Aboriginal groups, and they’re excited about that possibility.”

There are lots of positive reasons for transferring to the use of drones within mining, but many are concerned about the effect they will have on employment. The mining industry has been employing fewer and fewer people for decades; in the US, mining jobs declined by 60% between 1980 and 2015. Automation has played a large role in this drop, as machines are increasingly capable of taking on tasks that were previously labour-intensive.

This is a trend that seems likely to continue, as IoT and automation continue to make jobs obsolete. Automated trucks are already becoming a common sight on mine sites, reducing the number of drivers required by mining companies.

While drones may reduce the need for traditional surveyors, should BHP’s trial prove successful, they are creating a range of new, well-paid roles. A drone pilot at a mine site can expect to make as much as A$200,000 a year, as much as an airline pilot. It is one of a number of specialised roles being created by technology that require greater training opportunities to allow the mining industry to continue to develop apace.

“Technology will change the nature of work,” says Knox. “For example, with drones capable of delivering samples from site, surveyors will spend less time gathering data in the field and more time interpreting it. And soon, more drones could be managed by ‘pilots’ operating from a range of different vantage points.”

Drones look set to play an increasingly important role in mining operations around the world, increasing safety and productivity. Using them in mineral surveillance could save time and money, but a new generation of drone-capable surveyors must rise before it becomes commonplace.



10/05/2018

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Black Swift Technologies (BST), a specialized engineering firm based in Boulder, CO, announced today expansion of a pathfinder mission with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center to develop enhanced multi-angular remote sensing techniques using small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS). These autonomous platforms can more effectively and efficiently monitor crop health and growth monitoring through the use of a narrow spectral band (centered at 531 nm) used to derive vegetation photosynthesis related indices (e.g., CCI “chlorophyll/carotenoid index” and PRI “photochemical reflectance index”) by tracking seasonally changing pigment ratios and photosynthetic rates not capable with established greenness indices (e.g., NDVI).

The pathfinder mission, called MALIBU (Multi AngLe Imaging Bidirectional reflectance distribution function small-UAS), uses Black Swift’s most advanced small Unmanned Aircraft System, the Black Swift S2™ (Figure 1), to capture multi-angle reflectance measurements for land surface studies using multispectral imagers, oriented at different viewing angles. MALIBU’s primary subsystem—a multi-angular sensor array based on the Tetracam Mini-Multiple Camera Array’s (MCA) imaging system—generates science-quality reference data sets suitable for calibration/validation activities supporting NASA’s flagship Earth Science missions.

For nearly 30 years, NASA has been using satellite remote sensors to measure and map the density of vegetation over the Earth. Using NOAA’s Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR), scientists have been collecting images of our planet’s surface. These images show the density of plant growth over the entire globe. The most common measurement is called the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). NDVI is calculated from the visible and near-infrared light reflected by vegetation. Healthy vegetation absorbs most of the visible light that hits it, and reflects a large portion of the near-infrared light. Unhealthy or sparse vegetation reflects more visible light and less near-infrared light. NDRE (Normalized Difference Red Edge) is an index formulated when the Red edge band is available in a sensor enabling chlorophyll content to be ascertained. While NDVI and NDRE can provide valuable data, advancements in multispectral sensors correct for some distortions in the reflected light caused by airborne particles and ground cover below the vegetation for more accurate imagery and data sets.

While typical multispectral cameras might have five channels, MALIBU’s multi-angular sensor array is comprised of 12 sensors or channels. The primary (port side) Tetracam camera has five channels and the incident light sensor, while the secondary (starboard side) camera has six channels. When combined, the cameras operate as a single sensor suite with a combined field-of-view of 117.2 degrees. The MALIBU channels were specifically chosen to cover the relative spectral response (RSR) of multiple satellite land sensors; such as the Landsat-8 OLI, the Sentinel-2 MSI, both Terra and Aqua MODIS, Terra MISR, Suomi-NPP/JPSS VIIRS, and Sentinel-3 OLCI. By deploying MALIBU several times over a single day, data from multiple solar angles and also multiple observation angles can be obtained, significantly improving the accuracy of BRDF retrievals.1

According to NASA, “By enabling increased understanding of surface directional reflectance variability at sub-pixel resolution, MALIBU will allow NASA missions to assess and improve the retrieval of reflectance-based biogeophysical properties”. This includes vegetation indices, land cover, phenology, surface albedo, snow/ice cover and Leaf Area Index (LAI)/Fraction of Absorbed Photosynthetically Active Radiation (fAPAR), and other terrestrial Essential Climate Variables (ECVs). According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and its Global Climate Observing System (GCOS), Terrestrial ECVs generated from satellites provide the empirical evidence needed to understand and predict the evolution of climate, to guide mitigation and adaptation measures, to assess risks and enable attribution of climate events to underlying causes2.

MALIBU will also provide users with highly accurate imagery of crop status, plant vigour, growth monitoring, pest and disease detection—essential knowledge and data for evaluating crop development, yield maximization, and production efficiency.

“The goal of MALIBU is to capture timely and accurate in-situ data at a fraction of the cost of traditional NASA airborne science platforms,” says Jack Elston, Ph.D., CEO of Black Swift Technologies. “By measuring land biophysical parameters from a cost-effective, repeatable sUAS platform, MALIBU complements NASA’s satellite observations while significantly reducing the logistical and technical complexities of manned aircraft operations in remote geographical regions.”

MALIBU relies heavily on Black Swift Technologies’ proprietary SwiftCore™ Flight Management System to achieve the accurate results the mission outlines. SwiftCore’s high-performance autopilot function allows the science team to deploy MALIBU at both AGL (variable height dependent on terrain) and MSL (near constant height), generating multi-angle reflectance measurement techniques for land surface process studies using sUAS. In initial flight tests, MALIBU was able to capture high angular sampling of surface reflectance anisotropy, (i.e., defined by the Bidirectional Reflectance Distribution Function, another Terrestrial ECV), at 10cm spatial resolution. Sampling of both diurnal and seasonal landscape patterns were achieved under clear-sky conditions (often difficult at high latitudes). Additionally, the quick turnaround between flight deployments (i.e., ready for the next flight in less than one hour), allowed the science team to conduct measurements during a Landsat-8 OLI overpass.

The success of the first field campaign of the MALIBU system demonstrates to scientists and land use planners worldwide the ability to monitor and plan for agriculture, climate and weather changes and effects more accurately and effectively than ever before.



10/05/2018

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Aerial images taken by drones could help scientists to better understand the beneficial effects of trees shaping rivers during hot weather.

Tree planting has long been used as a way of keeping rivers cool.

Marine Scotland said fish such as salmon and brown trout were "relatively intolerant" of high temperatures.

It has been working on research that could eventually guide the "targeted planting" of trees where they would have the "greatest benefits".

Marine Scotland and the University of Birmingham have carried out the research because of concerns of the effect that increasing temperatures due to climate changes is having on rivers.

Low-cost

Last summer, a drone equipped with a high-resolution camera was flown over a tributary of the River Dee in Aberdeenshire.

Aerial images were taken of a section of the Girnock Burn and then used in the creating of a 3D map of tree heights along its banks.

The burn's salmon population has been the subject of monitoring work for more than 50 years.

Marine Scotland said drones could offer a low-cost method of studying remote stretches of rivers in Scotland, and the rest of the UK.

Information gathered by drones could be used to develop targeted planting at locations where trees would have the "greatest benefits in reducing the effects of climate change", it said.



03/05/2018

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The winners of the DJI Drone Photography Award have been announced, a competition calling for ideas to make creative use of drone photography, and to explore subject matters impossible to experience on foot. This year, the two winning projects consisted of a new perspective on Spain’s 3.4 million abandoned houses, and the documentation of salt production across Europe.

The first winning entry, titled “Sand Castles (part II)” was produced by documentary, travel and portrait photographer Markel Redondo, and focused on Spain’s 3.4 million deserted houses. Built in a frenzy by developers to exploit cheap loans, the houses now stand empty following the collapse of Spain’s real estate sector in 2007.


Having first documented the abandoned developments in 2010, Redondo returned in 2018 to spend 15 days in southern Spain, capturing drone footage of 12 developments in an attempt to highlight Spain’s housing problem from a new perspective.

The award’s second recipient, Tom Hegan, documented the process of salt production across Europe in his entry titled “The Salt Series.” Hegen’s drone flew above some of Europe’s largest salt production sites to reveal an intricate process that many take for granted. By documenting artificially-created salt ponds, Hegen’s aerial photography captures instances where nature is channeled, regulated, and controlled.


The DJI-run competition was supported by the British Journal of Photography. The winning projects, Sand Castles (part II) and The Salt Series, will be exhibited at theprintspace gallery in East London between 6th April to 18th April 2018.



03/05/2018

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For the second year in a row, Intel brought their drones to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. This time it was a live drone show instead of a pre-recorded one. The 420 Shooting Star drones were part of ODESZA’s act last Sunday and flew in a synchronized fashion to create ODESZA’s geometric logo in the sky in a spectacular fashion.

420 DRONES CREATE THE ODESZA LOGO IN THE SKY

Intel’s Shooting Star drones appeared as a surprise act during ODESZA’s show last Sunday. In what may be a first, the 420 drones created the geometric logo of the Seattle duo above the stage, live during the performance. Most other drone shows from Intel were pre-recorded.

The lightweight drones are able to emit more than 4 billion colors with their LED lights and are custom built for entertainment purposes. With specially developed software from Intel, one pilot is able to fly all the drones at ones. The drones can stay in the air for about 20 minutes depending on temperature and weather conditions.

The 420 drones that lit up the sky was not the largest number of drone that Intel has flown at once. That honor goes to the show the technology company performed during the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Intel views the drone light shows as an alternative to the more traditional fireworks.

“It’s in essence technology meeting art,” says Anil Nanduri, general manager of Intel’s drone group to Wired.

Intel does more with drones than just light shows. The tech giant is also involved in wildlife research and supplies some of the technology in the Tello toy-drone.



03/05/2018

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The drones are coming, whether your business is ready for them or not. Amazon Prime Air and Google’s Project Wing are working toward making drone delivery a reality. Despite significant regulatory hurdles in the United States, drone startups are multiplying like, well, drones.

The U.K. is well ahead of the U.S. in the regulation and deployment of drones. A London branch of restaurant chain YO! Sushi has experimented with delivery drones, and Amazon is moving forward with plans to roll out drone delivery in Great Britain. Even Royal Mail has hopped on the trend: The mail service believes that drones can help deliver the post in rural regions and give the government service an edge against commercial competitors. Airlines and oil rigs already use drones to inspect equipment that is hard for humans to access.

If you think that your industry has no use for drones, ask yourself if your competitors would agree. In the near future, the question may become not whether you should employ drones, but how many drones you can afford to deploy.

Regulations rein in drones

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) oversees drone flights in the U.S. The agency issued rules to govern the use of drones in 2016. These regulations included the requirement that the drone operator always have eyes on the drone. This places severe limits on the usefulness of drones for their most obvious application: delivery.

Most observers believe that U.S. regulators will need to find a way to accommodate a broader range of drone deployment. A sign that this is on the horizon came last October, when the Trump administration told the FAA to allow local jurisdictions to test their own drone regulations. The program laid out in the president’s memo would allow drones to fly out of operator sightlines and to fly at night, both of which are currently prohibited under FAA rules.

Drone innovation is already pushing the envelope well beyond the operations envisioned in the FAA rules. California-based Skydio recently released a drone that flies on autopilot. While the R1 has a battery life of only 16 minutes and is designed to follow a human subject (The New York Times dubbed it the “selfie drone”), it’s just one sign of how fast the technology behind drone flight has evolved.

Drones disrupt the media

Even under the FAA’s current strict guidelines (and under much looser regulations in other parts of the world), drones have already disrupted traditional media. Soaring aerial shots of remote landscapes are no longer the province of well-funded National Geographic camera crews. TV news helicopters are giving way to drone-mounted cameras that can deliver overhead shots of crowds and events for a fraction of the price.

The leading drone manufacturer, China’s DJI, sells drones for prices starting under $400. High-end drones range up to a few thousand dollars — about what a serious photography enthusiast might pay for a top-of-the-line DSLR camera.

The accessibility of drone technology has given enterprising photographers and videographers greater ability to disrupt the industry most disrupted by technological innovation: the media. A growing number of entrepreneurs are launching sophisticated media operations on a shoestring budget, thanks to drones.

The next industry to be turned on its head by this new technology is likely to be fulfillment. That will affect every business that sells products online.

Will drones give small businesses a competitive edge?

Here’s a scenario that may be common in the not-too-distant future: Your customer needs a book for her book group meeting tonight and you have it in stock at your brick-and-mortar bookstore. She calls you up, and you have it at her front door in less than an hour. You just beat Amazon, thanks to a drone.

Drones could become the secret weapon that gives local businesses a chance to compete against the increasingly speedy delivery of online giants like Amazon and Walmart. A restaurant needs last-minute floral arrangements for an event. The local florist flies them across town in an hour by drone. You need a prescription, but you’re too sick to go pick it up. That’s not a problem because your local pharmacy can send a drone to drop it at your front door.

The days of local drone delivery are not quite here. Regulations need to catch up with technology, so drones can coexist peacefully with humans and other aircraft. The technology is not yet mature.

Small businesses ignore drones at their peril. Amazon has a patent for a warehouse that’s a floating beehive filled with drones. The e-commerce behemoth hopes to station these fulfillment centers over every major city and offer nearly instantaneous delivery, siphoning off even more customers from local businesses. Drones could be the secret weapon that allows local enterprises to stay relevant in the age of e-commerce.



03/05/2018

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THE hills are alive but these days it’s not necessarily with the sound of music.

More often it’s the faint buzz of a drone shooting a mini Hollywood-style production to help sell a country property.

Drones are literally taking real estate photography to new heights.

Whether a country winery, horse stud or lifestyle property, drone photography can give an all-over picture of just what’s being sold, showcasing what normal photography can’t.

Suddenly those “breathtaking views” are being fully exploited, maybe with a sunset sequence from a drone creeping up and over a homestead to reveal the natural majesty beyond, all to the haunting sound of strings or panpipes.

Like a good movie, a well-executed drone video can convey emotion and romance. A lone quad biker zipping across green pastures shouts out the thrill of escape, or a flock of birds flying up from a pond, lagoon or even farm dam, conjures rural bliss.

Country real estate cliches such as “picturesque location” and “exceptional uninterrupted views” are made real. “River frontages” can be zoomed in on. “Close proximity to” beach, major town, national park or mountain range can be breathtakingly displayed in a seductive sweep.

Profitable pics

Scott Elks, managing director of Blue Sky Vision Media, says the use of drone photography, can be a game-changer, adding to a property’s selling price.

“It offers a completely different perspective. It’s about standing out, cutting through in a crowded market, providing a different perspective,” he says.

Matt Childs, of Pat Rice & Hawkins, and Nick Myer, of Elders, agree.

“Drones have revolutionised real estate, and brought a whole new dynamic,” Nick says.

Matt adds: “With rural properties you very often have a large amount of ground to cover, from river frontages to large paddocks of crops, and with a drone it just creates a magnificent aspect very different to what you would get from the ground.”

He says video tours in particular are invaluable when social media is being used.

What it costs

Drone shots, whether still or video, are generally built into the marketing package by real estate agents and undertaken by specialist companies. Prices vary greatly, from $200 to $1600 for a basic package of video and stills to $4500 or more for a 2 to 2½-minute narrated video.

“For less than $2500 we can get high-end production quality video plus all still images from drone and ground, internals and externals and floorplan,” Matt says.

If a drone pilot and a cameraman are used on a shoot, prices are usually higher.

For 360-degree panoramas, comprising individual shots “stitched” together in one continuous photo to be manipulated online by the viewer, Blue Sky Vision Media charges $1500 to $2000.

Scott warns people to do their homework before hiring a drone operator. “What’s happening is that you’ve got a lot of kids and unlicensed people flying drones and taking photos, especially in the real estate market because it’s such a price-sensitive area,” he says.

“Anyone can throw a drone in the air and take an aerial photograph but doing it and doing it well are two very different things. You get what you pay for.”

Under Civil Aviation Safety Authority regulations, the operator of a drone weighing more than 2kg needs to be licensed and/or certified to fly.

Professional operators must also carry public liability insurance.

Not for every property

While some agents differ, most agree drone photography, especially video, is not for every property.

If a property’s surroundings do not visually sparkle, or there’s less of a story to tell, conventional photography — maybe a static overhead showing boundaries — is generally good enough.



27/04/2018

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In the mountains near Ponce, Puerto Rico, after Hurricane Maria hit, the terrain made it incredibly difficult to repair power lines that used to stretch from peak to peak. For four months, people in the area lived in the dark. In January, Duke Energy started using a new approach to cross 1,000-feet-plus wide ravines: drones.

A drone, carrying a lightweight nylon cord, can quickly fly over dense, jungle-like vegetation to a pole on the opposite side of a ravine. A 3D-printed electromagnet attached to the drone makes it possible to drop the cord in the right position. Next, workers can attach a larger, stronger cord, and then pull the conductor wire into place, making it possible to restore power.

In some other areas, utility companies use helicopters to attach lines; some of the lines in the Puerto Rican mountains were originally installed that way. But helicopters weren’t available to make the repairs, and the work of flying them is also dangerous. After a helicopter pilot suffered a fatal accident in Indiana in 2017, Duke Energy looked for alternatives.

“The question was raised, is there another way to do this?” says Jacob Velky, manager of unmanned aerial systems at Duke Energy. The utility already used drones to inspect solar panels, wind turbines, and transmission lines. But by tweaking the technology, the team realized that it would also be possible to use drones to install distribution lines.

When Duke came to Puerto Rico in January, as part of a group of utilities helping with the recovery, it was the first opportunity to use the drones in regular operation. For six days, assigned to the mountainous area in the south-central part of the island, the team went from location to location flying the drones over hills and valleys. “We were doing upwards of 3-4 pulls in a day,” says Velky. “There was no shortage of work.”

Earlier, workers had attempted an older technique to cross ravines–shooting a brass projectile attached to the same type of nylon cord used by the drones. But the projectile can only travel about 800 feet; several crossings in the area were much longer. The drone strung one cord 1,200 feet, longer than three football fields. Without the drone, it’s also easy to miss the target, and if the cord is lost in the thick vegetation, workers will have to hike out to find it, using machetes to hack a path.

The drones were also used to survey the area, locating broken poles and other infrastructure buried under months of vegetation. “Being in the jungle, once the conductor is off and you just have a wooden pole out in the trees, it’s very difficult to see where the pole is,” he says. “So using the drone to do reconnaissance instead of somebody going out there and walking around trying to find it just minimized the amount of time that our employees are off a road.”

When Duke arrived in January, power had been restored to about 68% of customers in the area they were assigned. A little over a month later–with work that included a week of support from the drones–around 94% of customers have power.

The drones were so efficient that, in some cases, the team put up the cords before conductor wire was available. The island is still struggling to get supplies delivered. The embattled local utility, long criticized for mismanagement (and which will now, controversially, be privatized), is still moving slowly; it may take another month before the majority of residents on the island have power, and perhaps until May before everyone does. In the mountains, without the drones, the process also would have likely continued to be painfully slow. “I think it would have been a much longer time before these places were restored,” says Velky.



27/04/2018

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