4 UAV Drone No-No’s from Blair Witch

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The new Blair Witch sequel (called “blair witch project 3” by some) has more misfires than an Elmer Fudd hunting trip. And I say that having seen the celluloid street pizza that was Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows.

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But, if you can’t be good, at least be a good example. And a good example Blair Witch is: of how not to manage a field service drone and strategy. The 4 uav drone no-no’s from Blair Witch outlined below can teach you what you should do with a drone.

The characters in Blair Witch are blind to the numerous ways their drone and wearable tech could help them. Their complete, blithering ineptitude makes them super-victims. They’re gooey, victim-chip cookies that would encourage humble gratitude in even the most diabolical monster.

You can almost sense the Blair Witch offscreen, feeling simultaneously happy and guilty, wondering where pampering ends and gluttony begins. “A third helping of inept college kid? Oh, I couldn’t possibly, but if you insist…”

Do they have a drone feed piped to the nearest freelance exorcist?* Nope. Do they think to link their drone to the cloud, giving police some clues as to where they are? Of course not.

The Blair Witch

The Blair Witch

But those college kids’ ineptitude is your gain. They’re as inept with drones as they are at staying alive (that wasn’t a spoiler; most horror movies end about as happily as operas or Chicago elections).

In fact, your drone strategy— for either field service or maintenance and reliability— should be the exact opposite of what the characters in Blair Witch do. The first thing they don’t seem to realize about their drone is…

Field service drones can do a lot

The characters in Blair Witch do little more with their drone than check for where the road is. That’s it. They miss out on a rich bevy of anti-witch activities one could perform with a drone, like dive bomb the witch with holy water-filled balloons, or copies of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Or, I don’t know, deliver an essay explaining how Hocus Pocus is overrated, even for a cult film.

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Field service already has the drop on the Blair Witch kids in this regard. Drone use by field service and maintenance technicians is still in its infancy, but it’s the sort of infancy that listens to Mozart and finger paints haikus.

In Australia, drones are already used to inspect downed power lines in the field. The same was done in New Zealand, where a utility company sent drones to photograph accident sites, providing recon and intel before the field technicians arrived.

drones_australia

Here in the States, Commonwealth Edison of Illinois is already using drones to check on power outages, do preventive maintenance, and register the extent of weather damage.

By this point, everyone’s heard of Amazon’s plan to use drones in delivery. Field service giant UPS recently tested drones for the same purpose, especially for “difficult-to-access locations.” UPS has already test-driven its drones by having them check the top rows of its warehouses. It’s only a matter of time before Ikea makes a “DRØNN” that can tell you, in a Swedish Chef voice, the number of Poangs on the top shelf.

UPS’s height-related use could be good for other field service companies, too, suggests Julio Hartstein:

“If your operation services outdoor installations where a lot of work is done at height, sometimes in a hazardous environment, there may be certain tasks that drones can carry out— tasks that improve safety, and reduce the cost to serve.”

Risky field service jobs, like cell phone tower technicians, might benefit from drones that can check out a situation before they have to make the climb.

cell_tower_technician

But if the victim crew can’t use a drone to its best advantage, they also don’t know how to prepare to properly use a drone ahead of time. I’m talking, of course, about the fact that…

Part 107 drone mandates are a priority

If you want to use a drone in your field service business, you’ll need to know Part 107 first. Part 107 is the FAA’s list of do’s and do-not’s for non-recreational drone users.

Here are a few ways the Blair Witch kids broke federal rules (and one girl’s spine, but that’s an accident):

  • They engaged in beyond line of sight flight without a waiver: drones “must remain within VLOS [visual line of sight] of the remote pilot in command and the person manipulating the flight controls,” or the drone “must remain within VLOS of the visual observer.”
  • Your drone “may not operate over any persons not directly participating in the operation.” This includes student-eating witches. Look, she may have engaged in victim feng shui in the late 1800s, but c’mon, people, this is not ‘Nam, this is Frederick County, Maryland. There are rules.
Once you feng shui your victims, a grisly scene becomes a homey setting. Apparently the Blair Witch reads Real Simple.

Once you feng shui your victims, a grisly scene becomes a homey setting. Apparently the Blair Witch reads Real Simple.

  • “No careless or reckless operations.” This one speaks for itself, especially when Ashley goes climbing up a fifty-foot tree to grab the drone. Then falls. And dies.

blair_witch_ashley_tree

  • Most restrictions, at least according to the FAA, “are waivable if the applicant demonstrates that his or her operation” is safe. But there’s not a waiver in site from these hapless, Scooby-Doo rejects.
  • They didn’t make sure they were at least five miles from an airport. I only get up to Frederick County, MD, periodically (and it’s gorgeous), but I’m pretty sure I’ve passed a regional airport.

The above isn’t a comprehensive list of everything in Part 107, but it does give you an idea of the sort of things you’ll need to check on before you undertake any drone operations.

Drones can visit remote or dangerous locations

Here’s another good Blair Witch no-no: avoid incredibly dangerous places. At the end of Blair Witch, the two surviving characters go into a creepy, dilapidated murder house.

You know what’s a bad idea in a horror movie? Going into a creepy, dilapidated murder house.

blair_witch_house

You know what helps you avoid going into creepy, dilapidated murder houses? Drones.

If you’ve got a drone and a location (the “field” in “field service”), you’ve also got a way to survey that potential field.

If your assets are spread over a large area, like the HVAC equipment on top of this Tesla factory, you can save time and energy by using a drone, rather than just walking the circuit. This works especially well for inspecting assets in hard-to-reach areas.

The visuals can go a step further, too. Sandra DiMatteo refers to drones’ ability to

“capture the context of your assets, creating geospatial, georeferenced textured mesh 3D models.” Beyond just a real-time view of assets, “drone photogrammemtry can be used to capture the operating context of your asset, creating 3d (models) with precision,” which can then “become the baseline design model, asset information model to which future observations can be compared.” In other words, drones can be mapmakers of a sort, as well as an eye in the sky.

Drones like those made by DJI and Flir also show the value of drone photography. DJI and Flir’s partnership to create drones with thermal imaging cameras means your drone can show you which assets are overheating, or leaking.

Plan a drone strategy

Admittedly, the kids in Blair Witch don’t do planning. Here’s some actual film dialogue:

Guy Victim #1: “HEY MY SISTER DIED MYSTERIOUSLY AND HORRIBLY TRACKING THIS MONSTER SO THIS WEEKEND I’M DOING THE SAME AND YOU SHOULD TOTES COME WITH.”

Guy Victim #2: “I CAN’T THINK OF A SINGLE THING WRONG WITH THIS IDEA.”

I could excuse this because, you know, it’s a horror movie, but Guy Victim #2 participated in a rescue team when Guy Victim #1’s sister went missing, and, somehow, neither of them think to plan based on that experience.

Even if you don’t have past experience with a killer Wiccan, planning’s still a good idea.

I spoke with drone expert Patrick Egan about what to know before you invest in a drone for your field service business. “You’re going to need to account for the Part 107, which isn’t really that hard.” Egan also suggested how to find the right training. While countless schools will teach you how to use a drone, “you want a teacher who has both manned aviation and drone experience.” Egan recommends spending no more than $500 on a training course. Courses can run into the $2,500 range, but they’re not substantially different from the cheaper options.

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As for the drone’s cost, Egan says there are a lot of good consumer drones in the $1,000 range, that can run off the back of service trucks. Planning is key to protecting this investment, too. “I had a roofing job done, and the three roofing contractors who came out didn’t bring a drone because they’d all crashed them.” To avoid this, practice flying your drone before you take it on a job. Find “somewhere unpopulated, like the park,” to try it out.

Before  you fly, also know your town or county’s drone rules: “A lot of towns are starting to put up ordinances. Make sure it can be legally used in your municipality,” Egan says. Flying a drone in the wrong airspace can cost money. So can an uninsured drone. “Before you go out, you should invest in airmen’s insurance. If you miss something, you could get sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars. A lot of people who get into the drone business don’t think about that.”  

For more immediate protection, Egan recommends a hard shell case to protect your drone. “Anyone who’s worked in a service vehicle knows you get tossed around, so you can’t just throw your drones in the back of the truck.” A drone, like any precision tool, needs protection. Unlike horror movie victims, for whom it’s usually a moot point.

Droning On

…is what I’m probably doing, by now. So you tell me— have you used drones yet in your field service strategy? Leave a note in the comments below about how you’ve used drones, or about ways you could imagine them helping your service strategy.

*Disclaimer: Yes, I realize Elly Kedward, the Blair Witch, uses black magic, and could probably screw with cloud devices. I also realize that you need no more suspended disbelief to accept my review than the newest Blair Witch.

Looking for Field Service Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Field Service Management software solutions.

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Geoff Hoppe

Geoff Hoppe is a former Capterra analyst.

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