On building sites, drones are saving money and time by providing digital images, maps and other files that can be shared in a matter of minutes.

As the head of a 700-year-old winemaking dynasty, Lamberto Frescobaldi is overseeing a construction project in one of his Tuscany vineyards using technology that would have seemed otherworldly to his ancestors: high-flying drones.

Ubiquitous as toys for the gadget-minded – and sometimes for purposes like spying and dropping explosives – drones have become indispensable tools in construction and real estate. Their relatively low cost and ease of handling have made work more efficient for architects, landscape designers, surveyors, builders, structural engineers and brokers.

By launching a drone over the Perano vineyard in the Chianti region south of Florence, Frescobaldi can examine the progress of a 25,000 square foot garden being built atop one of his wine cellars. The rooftop garden is intended for wine tastings, a crucial marketing strategy for the vintner’s business, Marchesi Frescobaldi. The company, which has a half dozen vineyards that produce 11 million bottles of wine each year, reported revenue of $120m (£93m) in 2017.

Richard Shelbourne, a British landscape architect who designed the garden, says the drone images helped refine the project. “The garden design, which started in my head and was then calculated and set out on paper, could now be seen in full scale from the air, and all the lines and curves were in the right place,” he says.

The drone allows the men to observe the work of excavators and motorised barrows, and the construction of pergolas, fountains and terracotta walkways. After looking at the drone footage during construction, they decide to modify an entrance to the garden.

“I asked my son to fly over a number of times, so I could imagine how it would be planted, to give it attention from a perspective that you usually do not have,” Frescobaldi says. “These modern devices, these videos – it’s progress.”

Small, swift and agile, drones have all but replaced the more costly and less nimble helicopter for tasks that involve inspections, measurements and marketing images.

Interest in drones is rising for both consumer and commercial use. Sales of drones increased 33 per cent in 2017 over the prior year, according to the market research firm NPD Group.

In 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration allowed commercial drone use for a broad range of businesses, but with restrictions: pilots must be at least 16 years old and pass a written test.

On building sites, drones are saving money and time by providing digital images, maps and other files that can be shared in a matter of minutes, says Mike Winn, the chief executive of DroneDeploy, a company founded five years ago in San Francisco that creates software for, among other uses, operating drones with mobile apps.

Drones are reducing the travel time for busy executives, Winn says. “The head office can see what’s going on, and the safety team, the costing team, the designers – all of them can contribute to the project, share data and comment on it, without actually going to the job.”

They could also improve safety, too. In the days before drones, Winn says, measuring the roof of a house for solar panels would require “a guy with a tape measure to climb up there”, which often produced inaccurate results and, like anything involving heights, was dangerous.


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