Survey 2.0

The press coverage on the use of UAV (unmanned aircraft vehicles, commonly called drones) in the last 5 years has been significant.

Drones have immediately proved of use in reducing the risks associated with the health and safety of the surveyor in addition to a great cost saving. The use of a drone reduces the risk and cost associated to reach, inaccessible parts of the ship, heights and generally unsafe environments. As with any new technology, however, there are also new concerns. Some relate to the carrying out of the survey and some are inherent to this new tool of the trade. The purpose of this article is to draw your attention on some issues involving the use of drones.    

More detailed guidelines have been issued by some classification societies, for example ABS American Bureau of Shipping (Guidance notes on using unmanned aerial vehicles) and LR Lloyd’s Register (Remote Inspection Technique Systems – Assessment Standard for use on LR Class Surveys of Steel Structure).

The first issue is the navigation of the drone.    The drone may be operated by the surveyor or by a pilot. In the former situation, the surveyor must be a competent pilot, in the latter situation issues of communication between the pilot and the surveyor arise. It is possible to program the drone to operate autonomously as well. A flight plan may have to be prepared beforehand.

Further, the drone must be able to carry out the tasks required. Different sensors provide different data capturing and analytics. Inevitably different sensors will provide data of different quality. The operating envelope of the drone (weather conditions, lighting, battery stamina, available memory, etc.) must be taken into consideration. The drone will also require testing and maintenance. 

Ultimately what the drone provides is data. The ease with which data is captured and stored may create an issue of excessive data being collected. The issue is not one of storage, as nowadays data banks and data clouding are available at low cost. Rather, the amount of data may give the surveyor too much information to review. Therefore it may be impossible in practical terms to see the facts that would highlight something important. Further, it is worth considering that in the case of a dispute all the data collected will have to be made available for disclosure. Surveyors will also have to consider data security of their digital office, as less and less data is printed.

The operation of a drone will require insurance. As any craft, you may take out insurance in respect of the drone itself but, more importantly, in respect of damages to third parties. That may include property damage as well as personal injury and wreck removal.

A drone is nothing more than a special pair of eyes for the surveyor. It is the surveyor that has to consider the condition, defect or damage of the asset being surveyed, not the drone or its software. The quality and quantity of data may be delegated to a drone but not the interpretation.

The tools of the trade may change over time but the profession of the surveyor does not. Surveyors may be exposed to new pitfalls but their test of liability remains one of negligence. An error or omission will lead to a professional negligence claim, whether you use a drone or pencil and paper. That is why you will always need professional indemnity insurance and ITIC to defend you. Get a quote now.  

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