Florida companies, entrepreneurs and schools are all-in as commercial use of drones skyrockets.
Some industries where drone pilots are finding work:
One of the more common uses for drones is in real estate marketing. Aerial photos can help a listing stand out and increase interest from potential buyers.
“Consumers have very short attention spans nowadays. They start their search on the internet and see a lot of properties in a short amount of time. You have to get their attention,” says Brian Balduf, CEO of Chicago-based marketing firm VHT Studios, which hires drone pilots to shoot listings for Realtors nationwide; Florida is its third-largest market.
“Drones add a dramatic perspective, something new, something different,” he says. “Any home where the property itself is a major feature — if you’re backed up to a golf course, the ocean, a lake or a park — drones help convey the whole picture.”
Balduf says he sees a day when potential home buyers put on virtualreality goggles to view listings from the perspective of a drone. “As the generation of gamers becomes a generation of home buyers, there’s no reason they won’t be sitting on their Nintendo and saying, ‘I’m going to look at homes now,’ ” he says. “We’re really just at the beginning of seeing the impact.”
Utilities are using drones to search for power lines that have been damaged. After Hurricane Irma last year, FPL conducted more than 1,300 drone fl ights in South Florida.
“Let’s say the area is fl ooded, and someone can’t get to it safely. We could use a drone to access the area and assess the damage without putting anyone in harm’s way,” says FPL spokeswoman Nina Frick. “We still rely heavily on our linemen, but in situations like a fl ood, we probably would have had to wait until the fl oodwaters receded to safely get to the area.” The utility also uses drones for routine power line inspections.
Using a drone, builders can identify where construction work might be falling behind or keep track of materials. Aerial data from a drone also can be used to create a 3-D map to show the progress of a project to clients.
Recently, Suffolk hired a company to use drones to inspect the build-out of Jade Signature, a 57-story condominium in Sunny Isles Beach. Suffolk’s COO for Florida’s east coast, Joe Fernandez, says drones offer a faster, cheaper and safer way to inspect hardto- reach places. Ordinarily, “we would use a helicopter or a couple of guys with radios walking all over the site,” he says. “Now, one drone operator can capture information relatively fast, within five or 10 minutes, and give it to the rest of the team.”
“They provide a whole bunch of new data that’s going to allow us to build smarter,” says Lance Dengerud, Suffolk’s Miami smart lab director and a senior project manager.
Drones as a Service
For people looking for a secondary or even primary source of income, owning a drone could be the start of a freelance business specializing in aerial event photography or residential roof inspections (to name only a couple of examples).
In 2016, Keith Parsons, 57, became a drone pilot after working for nearly 30 years in construction.
“Over the years, my back deteriorated, so I was kind of forced to either have multiple surgeries or get out of the business. I decided to get out,” he says.
Parsons, who lives in St. Petersburg, owns a drone services company called Focus 360. He makes about $5,000 a month on average. His clients include TV news stations, sporting events producers, utilities and cell tower operators. Last year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) hired him to survey damage from Hurricane Irma in South Florida. “For three weeks of work, I made about $7,000,” he says. “It’s a growing industry, and it’s only going to get bigger.”
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