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Thermal Drone Mapping Takes Safety to Higher Level


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Photo courtesy of Raptor Maps

Roof inspections are a dangerous but necessary part of construction work. Falls remain one of the leading causes of death for construction workers, and anytime somebody ends up on the roof the chance for danger increases. But there’s a lot that can go wrong with a roof, so sooner or later somebody is going to have to go up there.

A much safer way to inspect a roof is to use thermal mapping performed by drones, which detect subtle temperature variations across a large surface to locate potential problem areas such as leaks or weak spots. Until recently, that typically required a manned aerial vehicle like a helicopter, plus time to sift through the collected data. The images produced were also of inconsistent quality because the helicopter had to take its images from as high as 2,500 feet in the air, according to DroneDeploy.

Besides being more efficient, it mitigates potential risks to workers by reducing the amount of time they spend on ladders or at unsafe heights.

Drones enable much faster gathering of thermal imaging maps, and at a much higher resolution since they can hover a few hundred feet above the structure being mapped. The resulting images are instantly available to the crew on the ground, who then know exactly where the problem is, rather than manually inspecting every section of the roof. Besides being more efficient, it mitigates potential risks to workers by reducing the amount of time they spend on ladders or at unsafe heights.

Drone mapping solution DroneDeploy just last month introduced thermal imaging to its Live Map service, which enables companies to view the captured thermal images in real-time, even without an internet connection, an industry first, according to Drone Below. The drone simply follows its flight path while generating detailed thermal images that are pieced together on a mobile device (iOS only, for now) in real time. Also for the time being, the Live Map is only available for DJI-branded drones.

Dallas-based commercial architecture and construction company The Beck Group recently integrated DroneDeploy software into its roof inspection process, using it to create a thermal drone map of an aging building on the University of Texas Dallas Campus. According to DroneDeploy’s blog, the university was dissatisfied with the images they’d previously gathered via helicopter. The resulting thermal images gathered by the drone were “a vast improvement”, particularly considering the map was gathered in a fraction of the time and cost compared to conventional methods.

“Rather than searching for a needle in a haystack, you have a map to tell you right where to look, says Grant Hagen, virtual design and construction manager at The Beck Group. “The work input to value output with drone-based thermal imagery is game changing, It’s unlike anything else in construction technology right now."

3DR, the company who makes drone software platform Site Scan, also recently announced the addition of thermal imaging capabilities, allowing customers to create “structurally detailed thermal point clouds,” an industry first, the company said in a news release.

Chris Anderson, CEO of 3DR, says the technology can be used to “easily inspect buildings, structures, and utilities, map solar arrays, monitor concrete curing and much more.”

Thermal drone mapping sits at that rare intersection between low cost, efficiency improvement and better safety that make it pretty much a no-brainer.

Drones are growing in popularity in construction, in part for their relatively inexpensive cost to deploy but also for their ability to take the place of human workers for potentially dangerous maintenance jobs inspecting difficult-to-access structures like skyscrapers, bridges or roofs. Combined with thermal imaging technology, it's now faster and easier than ever to diagnose and repair roof problems without endangering workers.

As more drone mapping platforms integrate thermal mapping capabilities across more types of drones and become compatible on a wider range of devices, it's likely we will see more companies adopting the technology for their roof or structure inspection needs. Thermal drone mapping sits at that rare intersection between low cost, efficiency improvement and better safety that make it pretty much a no-brainer.

If you liked this article, here are a few eBooks and webinars you may enjoy:

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