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Drones In Arboriculture

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Drone technologies have in recent years been transforming operations across a range of industries, and as these technologies continue to be developed and become more accessible it can be expected that further use cases will emerge.

Managing Director Hugh Taylor telling AA, “it’s been slow for the uptake for the industry, but it’s getting better”.

Towards the end of last year, research and advisory firm Gartner highlighted strong growth potential across different industry sectors, forecasting that global shipments of IoT enterprise drones will total 526,000 units in 2020, up 50 per cent year-on-year, and reach 1.3 million units by 2023.

In the arboriculture sector, drones have the capacity to provide additional value across a range of operations, however it is still early days, with Australian Tree Consultants Managing Director Hugh Taylor telling AA, “it’s been slow for the uptake for the industry, but it’s getting better”.

Drone Applications: Efficiency and Safety Benefits

Hugh, who has been an early adopter of drone technology, advised that arborists can use drones for a variety of tasks, from conducting basic aerial assessments, utilising high-definition imagery and video, to more specialised applications.

Australian Tree Consultants, which uses both fixed-wing and multi-propped helicopter drones, undertakes a range of drone activities, including mapping, aerial imaging, topography for vegetation mapping and infrared surveys.

“A lot of the data will get turned back into NDVI [Normalised Differential Vegetation Index] information, and you can look at tree health,” Hugh explained. “And that can be done globally – so, you can do a large section of tree population. “With that you can look at large-scale tree populations, and look at the tree health, and you can pinpoint individual tree species.”

Hugh also pointed to the efficiency and safety benefits that drones can provide, with the capacity to reduce hazards associated with using climbers at high-risk sites.

By way of example, he told AA that Australian Tree Consultants has recently been undertaking inspection work utilising drones, with the technology having helped to significantly streamline operations.

“We’re looking at embankment stability, and we’re flying the drone to look at trees for stability issues, and then trees that we highlight with the drone we’re benchmarking with tree climbers to abseil down and have a look at the trees on the cliff,” he explained.

“So, that’s been very valuable to do that, and that’s really quartered the amount of time that would be normally required to do that project.”

Research Before Making an Investment

For arborists looking to incorporate drone technologies into their suite of services, it is important to do your research, and gain an understanding of the sort of value the technology can provide your business.

When it comes to the initial investment businesses can expect to make, Hugh noted that models can vary significantly in price, from a couple of thousand dollars for a basic unit, to tens of thousands of dollars for more advanced models.

Of course, it is also important to be aware of the rules and regulations surrounding drone use, with Hugh advising that businesses need to do their due diligence.

“If you get it wrong, and you’re flying in areas that you’re not meant to be flying in, and you have an incident, it’s a serious breach,” he commented.

Meanwhile, businesses should also keep in mind the potential ongoing costs associated with maintenance.

When asked, Hugh told AA “Eagles hate them. I have had a drone taken out of the sky three times by birds, each time it was about a $3,000 fix.”

Further information on drone operations can be found at the Civil Aviation Safety Authority website www.casa.gov.au/drones.

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