Drones come to campus for inspections

Unmanned aerial vehicles used to inspect buildings for mainentance, renovation assessments

There’s been a buzz around campus—literally. You may have heard about it through your inbox or seen it in person: Drones have come to campus. These remotely operated aircraft are being used to inspect the exteriors of Mount Allison’s buildings, a method that allows more detailed and frequent inspections in less time.

Most of Mt. A’s buildings have exteriors of brick or sandstone, which over time deteriorate and may need maintenance or renovation. Buildings are routinely inspected to determine whether they need attention and of what kind.

PJ Materials Consultants Ltd. (PJMC) is a Guelph, Ont.-based building inspection company that facilities management has contracted for over 20 years to inspect Mt. A’s buildings. These inspections were usually done by a telescopic handler, similar to a forklift but with an arm like a crane’s. These handlers were limited in how highly they could inspect buildings, and also by how close they could get to buildings based on their surrounding landscaping.

PJMC contacted facilities manage-ment last year to offer the use of drones for building inspections, and since then more than 30 buildings have been inspected. The first round of drone inspections occurred in late June last summer, followed by another one in July. The third and most recent inspection occurred last week and was used to evaluate the exterior brick walls of the Athletic Centre. The campus community is notified before the inspections as a safety, operational and privacy measure.

The drones used to inspect Mt. A’s campus are DJI Phantom 3 professional models, which weigh about 1.3 kg and cost $1259 USD.

PJMC and facilities management can now inspect several buildings in a day, which would previously have taken several days without drones. The drones also provide videos of building inspections – as opposed to the still images attained with previous inspections – which are of greater value in assessing exterior integrity. Despite being faster and requiring less equipment, the drone inspections cost about the same as the previous inspection method. The drone is also limited in where it can fly, such as near power lines or in overcrowded areas, but it can generally cover building exteriors much more thoroughly.

Transport Canada regulates the usage of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), but different rules apply to them whether they’re used professionally or recreationally. Any drone under 35 kg used for recreational purposes can be flown without special permission, but most drones used in professional applications must attain approval from Transport Canada before they can operated.

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