Not All Aerial Imagery is Created Equal – Lessons Learned on the Streets After Harvey

Our CAT response team is on the ground in the aftermath of Harvey helping adjusters in the field as they conduct post-catastrophe inspections so people can get claims settled, houses fixed, and lives back on track. We’re working alongside major carriers and adjusters and together we’re learning a great amount about both the potential and current value of drones in the claims process after catastrophic events. One of the biggest lessons is how important image quality and resolution is.

You often hear image quality referred to in terms of a specific resolution, for example “sub-millimeter resolution.” Admittedly, we are guilty of saying the same thing, and the need for ultra-high-resolution imagery as part of the claims process with drones can’t be understated. But image quality depends on more than megapixels and marketing lingo. The method of image capture itself is a huge factor as well, and resolution numbers don’t mean anything unless they result in the right type of decisions.

Understanding the Cause of Loss

Let’s take a second to evaluate what an adjuster needs to learn from an inspection. After a catastrophic event like Harvey, the goal is to come to a fair settlement as quickly as possible. “Fair” is a function of the coverage provided by the insurance policy and the determination of the cause of loss in a specific event. To find out what’s fair, a claims adjuster needs to determine not only that there is damage, but also what caused that damage, and when. Adjusters need to answer questions like: Which areas were affected by wind as opposed to rain, moisture, and other types of damage? What areas aren’t damaged and don’t need to be repaired? What damage existed before the disaster? Which kinds of damage are covered by the policy and which aren’t?

Despite fantastic claims about image resolution, not all drone solutions help an adjuster answer these questions. And as we’ll see, resolution is a factor in the quality of imagery, but so is the method a drone solution uses to capture it. As you might guess, higher quality leads to better information, and ultimately, fast, fair settlements. But it takes the right kind of scan to make that happen.

Lawn Mower Scans – The Standard

The first set of images below are taken from the Lawn Mower Scan phase of an IMGING flight. In a Lawn Mower Scan, the drone flies at a safe distance above the roof (high and away from obstacles; remember, safety is a priority with drones) and makes a few passes back and forth – “mowing” the sky –  and taking pictures every few seconds.

Let’s look at the quality of the imagery you’ll gather with a Lawn Mower Scan.

To help illustrate the effect of zooming in and out (notice the top right of each image), we’re using images as they appear in the IMGING Web App.

A photo taken during a Lawn Mower Scan – taken ~50ft above the roof
A portion of this same photo, zoomed in to just before resolution begins breaking down

Not bad image quality, right? With these, you can clearly see and document damage. But is it enough to investigate cause of loss?

It’s important to know that this is the type of scan used by most drone solutions marketed to the insurance industry. This is the sole method most solutions use to gather aerial imagery, but our approach is different. IMGING uses Lawn Mower Scans as part of a standard inspection because it offers good imagery, while also allowing us to analyze data we collect post flight (we’ll talk more about post-flight data analysis in a future post). The Lawn Mower Scan is just one phase of flight in a standard IMGING inspection.

While images like those above are helpful in simply identifying damage, there’s a lot more to the story.  To truly investigate with confidence, you need images with higher-resolution and even more detail.

Enter the Detail Scan.

Detail Scans – The Loveland Innovations Standard

In another phase of flight, IMGING uses patented autonomous flight control technology to fly close to the roof (~10-15 feet) to get much more detail. Instead of being 100 feet above a roof (where you’d be with a Lawn Mower Scan) Detail Scans take photos around 10 feet above the roof providing much more granular detail – almost like adding a zoom lens. The purpose of a Detail Scan is to not only identify damage, but to also provide improved detail to help adjusters investigate for cause of loss with high degrees of confidence.

Let’s look at the difference.

This is a more detailed photo of one of the areas from Figure 1. The boxes are annotations that an inspector has made to document damage
A zoomed-in view of the Detail Scan
Another zoomed-in view of the Detail Scan
Another zoomed-in view of the Detail Scan

The Difference Is in the Details

These are just some of the images captured during this inspection. As we investigated each inch of damage with these more detailed photos, it became obvious that some of the damage captured wasn’t from Harvey, but was pre-existing from other events. We were also able to identify areas where attempts to repair previous damage were exposed by Harvey. With the second set of imagery, the adjuster is better equipped to make better decisions for a more accurate settlement.

Drones are cool. Drones are fast. Drones are safe. And as illustrated with these images, when used in the right way to gather high-quality aerial data, they can be used for much more than just identifying damage.

Curious about drones for roof and property inspections?



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