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Many expect drones will become the preferred tool for workers surveying construction sites. Courtesy of 3D Robotics

Here Comes the Latest Drone Army

May 09, 2016

Here come the drones. And their gray-suited operators. Who are fluent in Polish.

As the possibilities for commercial drones expands, it looks like regulation will be one of the key factors in allowing how fast new applications are rolled out (or not rolled out).

Consultants PwC are launching a new service this week to help clients in construction and real estate development survey land and buildings. They're starting it out in Poland, because it's one of only two countries (according to the Financial Times), that have drafted a comprehensive set of regulations to deal with the implications of drone use--regulations that, crucially, allow them to be operated beyond the actual line of sight of the operator. The other country is South Africa, the FT says.

For comparison, the Federal Aviation Administration has issued just over 3,000 permits for the operation of commercial drones across the U.S. so far, but the real explosion in drone use is expected to come later this year when releases a more comprehensive set of regulations: for now, their use in the U.S. is largely restricted to extremely specialized areas: small businesses hold 90% of all so-called 'Section 333 exemptions', and the vast majority of those have fewer than 10 employees (a significant number have just one employee) and take in less than $1 million a year.

PwC's surveying drones fall into the category of activity that is all about delivering high-quality data in real-time (rather than, for example, the delivery of payloads by the likes of Amazon or Japan's Rakuten). They'll use high-resolution cameras, sensors and geo-locational devices to spot any defects in a building's construction, as well as assess external factors such as a building's immediate environment, according to the company.

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 12.47.26 Source: PWC 

In that respect, they're part of a broader set of tasks relating to infrastructure maintenance, a market that PwC thinks is worth around $45 billion a year, out of a total market of $127 billion. That means PwC sees the market for infrastructure drones at more than three times the more consumer-visible market for last-mile deliveries by companies such as Amazon.

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