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Jimmy Sgroi
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Drones and Architecture: Becoming Certified to Fly

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), or more commonly referred to as “drones,” are a somewhat new and emerging technology, especially in the field of architecture. As prices of this technology fall while its features and capabilities increase, we are starting to see the benefit of being able to utilize UAS’s in house. As with most emerging technology, the rules and regulations surrounding drones are relatively new, especially when you are dealing with something as controversial as a flying camera. Part of dealing with some of the red tape surrounding commercial drone use is gaining your Part 107 certification.

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The Part 107 certification consists of a few different knowledge areas. When I began studying, I was a bit overwhelmed and somewhat confused about the information I was required to know for the certification. If you ever get a chance to look at a Sectional Chart, or a METAR/TAF weather report, I’m sure you’ll experience the same feeling of “what am I even looking at?” The objective of the Part 107 test is to ensure that you have a general understanding of what the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is and the safety and coordination the organization strives for. The test is completely electronic, and you actually do not have to have a flight demonstration to get your certification.

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Drones are a magnificent tool for architects due to their aerial imaging capabilities alone, but they are also able to gather much more information than you’d think. Previously, if you wanted an aerial image of a project or site, you’d have to capture the image by helicopter which was very expensive. Now, the cost of a drone with a 20MP camera and 4K video capabilities is available at less than $1,000. It has become much easier to capture images just by sending up the drone. You can then download the images and videos within 20 minutes.

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Drones can also help architects and designers with the process of stitching multiple images together in what is called photogrammetry. In a 25-minute flight, we are able to get around 400 images that we can import into a specific program and export as a 3D point cloud for Revit. This information is helpful for gaining site information, existing building sizes, and a general understanding of the existing topography.

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Lawrence Group’s research and development committee is looking into options for the firm to purchase its own flight hardware, as well as the required software for photogrammetry. To be able to fly commercially you need to take care of three things: own a drone, get insured (available on demand through an application) and get licensed. We are checking off the boxes and getting closer to being able to offer this exciting new service to clients.


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