infoTECH Feature

March 30, 2015

State Farm Drone Aircraft Cleared for Flight

Package delivery or military applications are the first things that come to a lot of minds these days when the topic of drone aircraft is brought up, but there are other applications for these tools that don't involve moving things from one place to another, be it books or bombs. State Farm recently received Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) clearance for one such use: camera-mounted unmanned aviation systems (UAS), otherwise known as drone aircraft, in assessing damage to property.

State Farm is well-known as an insurer of property damage, particularly for homeowners. But homeowner insurance claims—for those who have ever had the misfortune of filing one—can be difficult to verify. When damage occurs to, say, the roof of a three-story farmhouse, it can be difficult or dangerous to get up on that roof to check. But with drone aircraft, it can be as simple as standing on the ground with a tablet or dedicated remote control, sending the drone up to the rooftop to fly over the potentially-damaged area and record its findings.

In the early stages, the testing and development operations will take place at private sites in and around Bloomington, Illinois. After successes with the test flights have been realized and the lessons learned from the accompanying failures, the system can expand outward to more real-world style scenarios. Meanwhile, State Farm will be careful to maintain the parameters for such testing that the FAA has already put in place.

Wensley Herbert, who serves as State Farm's operations vice president for claims, offered up some comment around the use of drones, saying “The potential use of UAS provides us one more innovative tool to help State Farm customers recover from the unexpected as quickly and efficiently as possible. We will continue to provide the same personal, good neighbor service State Farm is recognized for, with assistance from these high-tech devices.”

Some, at this point, might bemoan the fact that State Farm basically had to get government approval to do something that might be valuable for its business operations. Others, meanwhile, might be happy that drone aircraft simply can't be used by just anyone for any reason. While there are clearly two sides to this argument, with different if equally-compelling interests at stake, trying to find that balance between two valid arguments—better customer service against potential threats to privacy—can be difficult to say the least. State Farm, meanwhile, is showing how easy it can be for drones to reach places that can get damaged, but need to be repaired quickly and without risk to human life. Crawling around on a roof looking for damage is dangerous, and difficult, but a drone can do it much more readily.

Still, the use of commercial drone aircraft is advancing, and it may not be much longer before we reach a point where all our packages, all our insurance adjusting, and many of the other functions we rely on are done by remote control. It's not without complications, but State Farm may be showing us what a good neighbor drone aircraft can be.

Edited by Dominick Sorrentino

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