Using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for asset management

Alison Matthews, Environment Agency, discusses the use of drone technology and provides and overview of the new CIRIA guide

As Geomatics Manager at the Environment Agency I lead the team which provides remote sensing advice and services across the organisation. Over the last five years, this has extended to using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for a wide range of applications including asset inspection, waste management and responding to floods and pollution incidents.

Whilst there are clear advantages to the use of UAVs, there are many risks and misconceptions which can mean that they are not fully exploited. Had this guide had been available when the Environment Agency started to use UAVs, it would have saved much time and allowed us to move to deployment with more confidence.

The guide is written in an informative and engaging style, with the earlier chapters providing comprehensive advice on the high level of planning required before undertaking surveys with UAVs, including selecting the right sensors and platforms, consideration of data volumes and compatibility of data with other asset management data.  The Health and Safety risks are also explored, along with the necessary legislation that all operators and commissioners of UAVs need to be aware of.  Having all this in one place is one of the key advantages of this guide.

The wide range of case studies then allow these technical considerations to be explored in real world examples. The case studies represent all stages of the asset life cycle and represent a wide range of both sensor and platform type.  They show how UAVs can be used to gain information from confined spaces, or places where it is difficult to gain physical access.  They consider management of both natural and manmade assets.  

As with all fast moving technologies, we need to be mindful of future developments in this innovative field of data capture.  There are many new sensor types being explored and the capability of the UAVs is being developed to allow data capture in more adverse weather conditions or at a greater distance from the operator. I believe this guide gives a strong grounding that will allow industry and government to develop the use of these systems to ensure we can fully exploit their potential in a safe and cost-effective way.

CIRIA’s new guide Unmanned aerial vehicles for managing assets (C783) is available to order now.