DRONES: NEW PARTNERSHIP, NEW PRODUCT
Unmanned aerial vehicles take flight in the insurance industry
By Christopher W. Cook
A flooded field that can’t be reached on foot to assess the damage. A sudden hailstorm, potential roof damage and the ladder’s too short. In these situations, unmanned aerial vehicles—or drones as they’re more commonly known—become helpful, and the insurance industry has taken notice. As the use of drones increases for inspections, analysis and other purposes, one business has partnered with a leading company in roof and aerial measurement services and another has launched a website for drone coverage needs.
When PrecisionHawk—originally called WineHawk—was founded in 2010, the initial use of its drones was to chase birds from vineyards. Early “missions” led to the idea of taking aerial images to analyze crop data. In 2017 the company, under the leadership of newly appointed CEO Michael Chasen, former CEO and co-founder of eLearning software platform Blackboard, began serving multiple industries using its network of drone pilots for inspections and data analytics.
“We have 30 full-time drone pilots on our staff,” says Chasen. “At our website called droners.io, anyone with federal certification to fly a drone for business can register to work for us on a contract basis. If we get a job in Kansas, pilots located there can respond. We have around 15,000 pilots registered, most in the United States. It’s like an Uber for drone pilots.”
Chasen was the CEO of a startup called SocialRadar, a company that sought accurate location data for businesses, when he was first introduced to PrecisionHawk.
“Bob Young, the chairman, called me in 2016 and said they were looking for someone for a company in the drone space,” he says. “I met with the team and fell in love with the opportunity. I thought about industries like construction, insurance, agriculture and energy and how they were starting to use drones to help scan and get aerial data information. It was exciting, and I definitely wanted to be a part of it.”
At the 2018 InterDrone Conference in Las Vegas—Chasen was the kickoff keynote speaker—PrecisionHawk announced a new partnership with EagleView.
“We had been working on technology with them for the past couple of months; EagleView is an expert at analyzing infrastructure and getting aerial data information, similar to what we do with drones but with aircraft and covering larger spaces,” Chasen says. “They didn’t have the drone technology, which uses Lidar (a surveying method that measures distance to a target by illuminating the target with pulsed laser light and measuring the reflected pulses with a sensor). That technology is now miniaturized and can measure everything instantly in every direction. This technology used to be the size of a car but now is the size of a camera.
“Drones have the potential to revolutionize the industry from a data collection and analytics perspective.”
“Also, if they had a plane in California and they needed it in Washington, D.C., they’d have to relocate it. With our drone pilots based throughout the country, we can deploy one and get aerial imagery almost anywhere within 24 hours.”
With Hurricane Florence recently striking the east coast, PrecisionHawk was receiving calls a week before landfall in preparation for the aftermath.
“People were signing up for our drone pilots in advance so they could find infrastructure problems after the hurricane hit,” says Chasen.
“Whenever there’s a storm or an emergency, we deploy a drone pilot to analyze roofs on homes or other damage. We also do this for farm insurance if we want to view the damage done to crops, or if there’s an area with severe flooding and you can’t even send out a person. Our clients don’t just get the imagery but also the analysis of the data, so they can see what insurance claims there might be.”
Both companies in the partnership use their own analytics. If EagleView doesn’t already have the analytics for a specific building, it will use those collected by PrecisionHawk’s drones.
“EagleView takes the collected information, does an analysis, compares it to previous images it has and then gives the insurance company an estimate of the damage and the cost to repair or replace,” Chasen says. “It is one of the industry leaders in the infrastructure space.”
Ultimately, when it comes to using drones for the insurance industry, “what we’re doing is preventing workers from getting in harm’s way, whether that’s climbing a roof or a cell tower or hanging out of a helicopter for aerial photos,” Chasen says. “We’re not only able to reduce the risk but also can get higher-quality data images and apply analytics so companies can make better informed decisions faster.
“I think as drone technology advances and regulations open up you’ll see drones working from outside your window, from analyzing infrastructure to working on insurance claims. Drones have the potential to revolutionize the industry from a data collection and analytics perspective.”
REIN’s new website
We know that drones can be used for building inspections and damage analysis, but how else are drones being used professionally, and what would happen if an accident occurred? Say you have a client who videotapes weddings or other special events. They recently began using a drone to get aerial shots for their videos. What if that drone falls and injures someone? This is where drone coverage and REIN’s DroneInsurance.com come in.
REIN, an insurtech company with offices in Massachusetts, North Carolina and California, launched its insurance platform this year, along with its new product—DroneInsurance.com.
“The DroneInsurance.com policy combines the security of an annual policy with the flexibility of an episodic policy by providing coverage for ground risks, personal and advertising liability, and premises liability on a 12-month basis, with the ability to turn on flight liability coverage whenever it’s needed,” says William Newton, vice president of insurance product at REIN. “Flight liability coverage, with limits from $1 million to $25 million, can be turned on per drone for a day, a year, or any duration in between. Physical damage coverage and coverage for sensors and ground equipment are also available.”
DroneInsurance.com “gives the customer full control with access to all policy documents; the ability to add additional insureds; create COIs instantly; add or remove drones, sensors and ground equipment, and update coverages,” Newton says. “Our policy offers third-party liability coverage for in-flight and on-the-ground risks, personal and advertising injury liability coverage, and coverage for claims arising from invasion of privacy, medical payments to others, physical damage, and theft.”
DroneInsurance.com provides a snapshot of each individual drone, sensor or piece of ground equipment, the coverages it has, and the amount and duration of each. Flight coverage can be activated in advance or on the day of the drone’s planned flight. If an accident occurs, claims can be submitted digitally after uploading photos, videos or flight logs and answering a few questions.
“Drones are becoming safer and more reliable by the day, but they still are prone to failures, which lead to claims.”
Vice President of Insurance Product
“Drones are becoming safer and more reliable by the day, but they still are prone to failures, which lead to claims,” Newton says. “Typically, claims result from hardware failure, weather or other environmental factors, and human error, such as ignoring or overriding low battery warnings or flying too close to an obstacle.
“In the future, as drones become more autonomous, we believe that liability will increasingly shift from the operator to the multiple layers of hardware, software, and telecom infrastructure that will be instructing the drone, and the coverages needed will respond accordingly. We are monitoring those developments and working with our partners to tailor the coverages of the future.”
Whether the weather causes a need for damage assessment or a client’s need for aerial photos requires coverage and protection, drones have arrived in the insurance industry. Although you can’t hop on board a drone (yet), you can hop on board the opportunities that drones and the companies using them are offering.
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