NATE Unite 2016 Drones On

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One thing that I wanted to see is the progress of drones in the wireless industry, Guess what, NATE is pushing the drone education. I put it like that because the FAA can’t keep up! They don’t know how to handle this new industry. In my opinion they are not addressing the tower industry’s needs fast enough.  I am hoping that the FCC will help them understand the role drones will play in tower safety and inspections enough to work with the FAA move ahead with the education of the drone industry.

There was a drone session where Todd Thorin of Sioux Falls Tower talked about what he has done with drones so far was great to see. However, one thing to think about is what the FAA will allow so we need to take heed before just flying drones. However, Todd did more testing for drones that we should document. He tested drones near dishes, broadcast antennas, cell antennas, almost every frequency of antenna. He has valuable feedback that we really should share with the industry so that we know how drones will react. This is a learning process for all of us, so let’s learn from his experiences. For those of you who don’t know, Todd put out a bunch of videos on YouTube, here are some samples:

In the session Todd had some great videos from his flights to show how we can use this in the industry. All these structural engineers and tower owners who won’t climb are able to use this dates to review the actual heights, mounts, positions, and all the problems on the tower. By the way, if you’re a contractor that took shortcuts on the tower and then lied to the owner, (you know who you are), don’t expect to work for that company when they see what you have done, thanks to drones! Drones will expose the problems that truly exist on the tower because now owners can look at the tower from a new perspective. How cool is that? If you remember at the FCC DOL Tower Safety Workshop Richard Cullum of Crown Castle Tower mentions how they used contractors and they had to take the word of the contractors as to what they did, so this seems like a solution to prove if they really did things right or if they just lied to get paid! Crown Castle should do this today!

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Todd was able to resolve tower issues. He told a story of where a contractor and the tower owner had a dispute over how a mount was installed near a lamp. They argued and eventually the tower owner called Todd to take pictures. Well, this made the owner aware of so many more issues. For instance there were several problems on the tower with equipment not mounted where it should have been along with problems with some of the mounting on the tower. I don’t remember all the drone pictures showed the owner all of the real problems with the tower, all the mistakes on the tower that were building up. This was a situation where the owner lost faith in the contractor so they brought in a third-party that could check on the tower at a very reasonable price and present unbiased pictures and videos to present to both sides. This really helped the tower owner see what was really going on up there where he relied on contractors to tell him or take pictures 3 or 4 feet from the tower. It was an eye opener. I really hope this is something that we can use for pre-climb inspections as well as close out packages at some point. I also think this would be a great tool for safety inspections and to be used when training climbers. There are new tools coming out for the training perspective where the climber wears a body camera or a camera on his climbing helmet, but I will talk about that in the future.

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Dave Culler also talked about what Hazon Solutions has done. They showed video of work they have done for utilities. They showed video of utility tower and line inspections that they have done. It really is impressive. They were called out to inspect the equipment after a storm because the drone team could deploy quickly and get access to areas that would have been a challenge for any crew. So this way they immediately know where to send the workers to do repairs on problems that may not be noticed from the ground. One example was the cotter pins that were starting to work their way out of bolt that would have caused a high power line to drop, and the utility company dispatched teams immediately to do this repair. By the way, they don’t use just a HD camera, but a 4K camera to catch-all the details.

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Hazon also brought up the use of LIDAR on the drones to make 3D images of the towers. I think this is a great idea but there are now more and more options coming out for 3D modeling of towers and utility lines. LIDAR is a system that can make 3D models of whatever you are catching. It is very accurate in its model, help you identify the accurate AGL and to the detail where you can catch missing washers.

Remember that drones have so many rules to follow. If you plan to use drones, then plan to be educated to do things properly and to make sure that don’t fly over people that have no idea what the drone is for. The utility companies have a system down where they put out flyers to explain when they will be doing something with drones. They let the people know ahead of time and educate them why its being done.

Be smart, be safe, and pay attention!

See ya!

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