Drone mapping provides insurance companies with an easy, fast and accurate method of documenting a scene and preserving key details  while also letting the process of clean-up and reconstruction begin as quickly as possible. Recently, Dronotec, a start-up company specializing in drone inspection for insurance companies conducted a case study to determine just how much money this drone mapping was saving insurance companies. Dronotec’s founder, Emilien Rose, worked as a loss assessor in France and Australia for 10 years and conducted assessments of about 8,000 claims. Rose believes that Dronetec and drone mapping can really save time and money for insurers.

For example, recently a fire in France consumed 5 acres of a vacation destination on the coast. Once the insurance company came in to assess the damages, they realized that the sheer size of the site posed quite a challenge. Moreover, so much of the property was damaged by the fire, inspectors could not enter the properties or inspect the roofs without the threat of personal injury. A plane attempted to capture photos but many of the photos were not clear or sharp enough to use. However, the loss adjuster recommend a drone to do the mapping of the scene. In about 10 minutes, the drone collected more than 300 geo-tagged photos flying about 180 feet over the property. The images were uploaded to a drone mapping program, and three hours later a 2-D map and 3-D model of the property and the damages were available. The high degree of accuracy of not only the photos but the mapping improved the likelihood of identifying the cause of the accident exponentially. And the insurance company’s team members were able to collaborate and review the mapping in one cloud-based space. In this one case, the use of drone mapping saved this French insurance company about €99,985,000 (or about $110,600,000).

The ability to quickly process claims is very helpful to insurance companies with large scale disasters that have many claims filed related to the same incident.

Rose’s study not only supports the effective use of drone mapping but also suggests that maybe insurance companies can start using drones not only for mapping incidents but to inspect properties and verify risks before issuing insurance.  Insurance companies can then work with their prospective customers to mitigate risks and hopefully prevent disasters from even occurring.

Perhaps it is tools like this that have led to the boom of testing and research of drones by insurers in 2015 and this year, too.  Numerous insurers received Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) drone exemptions in 2015.  Exemptions have been granted for activities including, among others: (1)  aerial data collection in support of inspections for insurance underwriting and claims adjusting, and (2) research related to the use of drones for insurance functions including using drone imagery in re-underwriting, catastrophe response, roof inspection, and claims resolutions settings.

The exemption from FAA regulations permits insurers to more efficiently test small drones.  Insurers receiving the exemption may fly drones during the day within line of sight of a trained pilot and air-crew, thus avoiding the need to perform test flights at FAA approved sites.  Other insurers received exemptions allowing the insurers to begin operating drones in catastrophic situations. Pending amendments to the current regulations that, if passed, benefit insurers, include suspending federal restrictions and requirements that limit the use of drones post-disaster.  The passage of this amendment would permit insurers to quickly respond when access to the site of a catastrophe is limited.

And as we previously wrote, the FAA Part 107 final regulations for commercial drones, which will take effect in August, may have a further impact on the insurance industry. However, it is unclear what, if any, impact it will have on the insurance industry other than that drone owners will need to insure that they have proper insurance coverage. At least one insurer has already introduced a policy for drones that covers the pilot, non-pilot “crew”, property damage and optional “war, hijacking and terrorism” coverage.

Legislative and regulatory activity regarding drones continues to be vigorous at both the federal and state levels.

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