Florida is well-known for its 1,800 miles of coastline, hundreds of freshwater springs, delicious citrus and, of course, Disney World. However, the state is adding a new designation. A recent study found that Florida is tied for the highest number of commercial drone applications in the U.S., just behind California. Florida’s standing is impressive since it has about half the population as California, and the percentage of companies in Florida using drones is higher than in any other state. What are they using them for? Here are eight ways drones are being used in the Sunshine State.
1. Revolutionizing Citrus
Florida’s $9 billion citrus industry encompasses 569,000 acres. The state produces 70 percent of the nation’s citrus and is second only to Brazil in global production. Drones are revolutionizing the efficiency of this key industry statewide, and particularly in South and Central Florida. Current technology can help growers monitor their groves, count their crops and even measure the size of the fruit on the tree. That real-time information is critical for forecasting prices and profits.
Water management is one key area where drones are revolutionizing the industry. Here’s how. Drones can fly over a grove, collecting aerial images with thermal infrared cameras. Computer software then puts thousands of images together, reading each pixel for temperature, creating a color-coded picture with cool tones representing cooler, well irrigated areas. Warmer tones show warmer, less irrigated regions. Inconsistent irrigation is a huge problem for growers, affecting production and the appearance of the fruit. Drones allow growers to monitor and make adjustments before their crops suffer.
2. Protecting Wildlife
Florida is home to more than 500 species of land wildlife and more than 700 salt and freshwater species. Monitoring wildlife often requires low altitude flights by manned aircraft that often jeopardize both the wildlife and the scientists involved with a project. Audubon magazine reported light-aircraft crashes as the No. 1 killer of wildlife biologists. Drones are not only safer, but they are cheaper, more efficient and more precise than other aerial vehicles. Here’s an example of how marine biologists are protecting wildlife with drones. Last year a wild coyote snatched a family pet in a residential area. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission acknowledges wild animals sometimes need to be removed from residential areas when they present a danger. However, coyotes patrol home ranges of up to 12,000 acres, creating a real challenge for trappers. Eight trail cameras were employed to track coyote routes. The animal was found and relocated. Drones can also be used to monitor animal populations, allowing conservationists to quickly identify decreases in numbers.
3. Transforming Real Estate
Drone photos and videos are transforming the way homebuyers and businesses shop for real estate. Real estate aerial photography is now the leading use of drones in the state, according to the Association for Unmanned Vehicles Systems International. Drones make it far cheaper to photograph sprawling properties, and residential projects are easy to implement. Drones are key to an effective real estate marketing plan, whether an agent is showcasing a large property or smaller properties within a large community. Many home buyers buy for the community a property inhabits. A video featuring beautiful aerial views, especially those found in Florida, can attract buyers to an area.
Commercial real estate brokers are also finding a significant source of value in drone videos and photography. A simple aerial photo can help a potential buyer or lessee see a property’s proximity to major highways and intersections in a way traditional photos fall short. Aerial photography services can also provide critical data to businesses seeking a new retail location by enabling them to see up-to-date images of a shopping center’s other tenants and other new developments such as traffic lights and available parking spaces.
4. Accelerating Disaster Relief
Large drones like NASA’s Global Hawk have become pretty much essential during hurricane season, when they capture data such as temperature, air pressure and humidity. They even drop devices called dropsondes that can collect data in real-time for the National Weather Service. However, smaller drones are used to survey destruction after a storm, look for survivors in inaccessible places and can even deliver relief supplies. For example, civil and damage assessment engineers at the University of Florida in Gainesville are working with UAV Survey, based in Houston. UAV is owned by a Geospatial analyst. The task is to obtain data that would provide quantifiable damage assessment of the effects of Hurricane Matthew on infrastructure. The data is obtained via drone, and will help rebuild and prepare for the future.
5. Improving Your Golf Game
In addition to hosting THE PLAYERS championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida is home to over 1,200 golf courses. Players at all levels come to enjoy sunshine and a great course. Aerial drone videos can be great marketing tools for these courses, but they are also helping players improve their games. Drones are used to create virtual course books, giving players an advantage before they even tee off. Owners use drones to video from just a few feet off the ground in some places to several hundred feet up in others. The result is a detailed video that shows all the angles and nuances of the course. Some, like the Eagles Golf Club in Odessa, compiled a video for each hole, narrated by a golf pro with specific advice.
6. Making Bridges Safer
It’s hard to find a community in Florida that isn’t connected by some type of bridge. Drones are making it easier to inspect and identify repairs on the state’s 11,451 bridges. Aerial drones can go where humans can’t or can’t without substantial safety infrastructure. They can thoroughly inspect every joint, support, crack and crevice. Soon, though, drones will not just be inspecting in the air. Florida Atlantic University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science in Boca Raton received a grant last year from the Florida Department of Transportation to develop autonomous waterborne vehicles to help inspect bridges. “This is a way to make the initial part of that search safer for people, to do it more quickly, to get quantitative results instead of qualitative results and to basically empower them to make better decisions where they use their resources,” said professor Karl von Ellenrieder.
7. Helping Manage Traffic Accidents
The Florida Department of Highway Safety (FLHS) recently opened a petition to legislators that would allow personnel to use drones in traffic accident management. Current law prohibits the use of drones to gather evidence in criminal cases or to be used for surveillance. The FLHS says they would use the technology to take aerial images, assess damages and map the scene of an accident in order to clear roads quicker.
8. Streamlining Engineering and Construction
Any engineer or project manager knows that mistakes cost money. Drones help construction firms reduce those mistakes. A drone can gather data to build a 3D map of a proposed project. That image can be priceless when planning a project. Before building begins, clients can see a finished product, and engineers can ensure land conservation factors are considered. Past the planning stage, drones are used to monitor progress, perform inspections and to simply provide marketing material for the engineering or construction firm. Fortune magazine estimates that American construction companies waste $160 billion in materials each year due to mismanagement and over-ordering. Drones provide precise data that would avoid much of that waste.
Waste management isn’t the only use, however. Consider this example. Construction firm Brasfield & Gorrie recently used drone technology to generate an elevation map of a 61-acre hospital construction site in Florida. The problem was that the earthwork performed by the subcontractor didn’t match the building design. The current grade wasn’t the same as the proposed finished grade. Drone mapping helped the firm identify the problem areas without losing precious construction time.
One report estimates that drone sales will increase 10-fold by the end of this decade. That’s 67.9 million drones being sold annually by 2021. Drones will eventually revolutionize the way we transport goods, help save the environment, and change the way we see the world. Whether for personal or commercial use, drones are quickly becoming an significant part of our everyday lives and a positive force in the Florida economy.
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