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Pit & Quarry Interview: Considerations to Make When Evaluating Drones

Pit & Quarry Magazine writer Kevin Yanik's interview with DroneView Technologies CEO Michael Singer:  "Considerations to Make When Evaluating Drones" - June, 2016

Drones continue to captivate aggregate producers, many of whom are currently exploring how to incorporate the technology to better ascertain volumes and model topographies.

Michael Singer, co-founder of Drone View Technologies, estimates that between 3 and 5 percent of producers have adopted drones to date. But he expects the industry’s market adoption rate to span between 60 and 70 percent within three years.

“Everybody is evaluating,” Singer says.

Specifically, producers are evaluating four factors related to drones, he says: the accuracy of the data drones provide; the timeliness of that data; whether or not the technology is safe; and, of course, the cost.

“From those factors [producers] then ask what does it all mean from an operating perspective,” Singer says. “Can this data make us more efficient?”

A number of producers are accustomed to gathering inventory data on an annual or semiannual basis, he adds, going about the process with an ad hoc accounting approach. But some producers who’ve adopted drone technology are experiencing benefits they otherwise didn’t expect to gain.

“They’re seeing the benefit of being more timely in their assessments,” Singer says. “Change with any big company doesn’t happen overnight. I think many spent last year – and some continue into this year – learning about the technologies and capabilities. They’re trying to figure out if this is a core competency and if they want to rely on a third party.”

According to Singer, some aggregate producers have developed the idea that they can purchase a drone on Amazon and get a little training from an expert before they can manage a drone on their own. The process isn’t that simple, though.

“The reality is that the nuances of doing it accurately, consistently, at scale and safely are more challenging than many realize,” Singer says. “[The technology] works the vast majority of the time as intended, and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Singer cites a fallen drone as an example of something that can go wrong.

“We had equipment fall out of sky from about 200 ft. [one] week,” he says. “Fortunately, nobody was hurt. The equipment was damaged beyond repair. It was a motor failure, and that happens. People need to realize that while the technology is cool, safety is a real issue and we’re mindful of it.

“We try to be as least destructive to the operation as possible and stay away from as many people as possible,” Singer adds. “That means staying 500 ft. or more away from people. We keep our operations to FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) standards and code.”

These are all considerations aggregate producers must make, as well.

“Many large companies also have their own engineering and surveying and GIS (geographic information system) capability,” Singer says. “They start off thinking maybe they need to buy their own drones and be their own resource. Many have done that, but many have also crashed the drones they’ve acquired. And, for a plethora of reasons, they’ve concluded maybe that’s not their core competency.”

Insurance is another consideration aggregate producers must make.

“Regulations are something to be mindful of, as is an additional insurance consideration related to aviation,” Singer says.

However aggregate producers decide to go about drone management, Singer is convinced more producers will soon be managing drones.

“[Drones] are going to be transformative to the mapping and survey world,” he says.