Why Hurricane Harvey’s Destruction Has Unleashed an Army of Drones

Drones will be flying over Texas and Louisiana to help survey property damage by Hurricane Harvey. 


The top two property insurance companies in Texas — State Farm and Allstate (ALL)  — will be using the portable aircraft to take pictures of the damage done by the hurricane that has damaged an estimated 100,000 homes in Texas and Louisiana, according to the White House. Allstate said it’s expecting to make at least a thousand drone flights a week to assess the damage. While a person doing insurance survey work could do about three houses per day, a drone can get through about three houses per hour. 


In addition, AT&T (T)  announced Wednesday that it will use a fleet of 25 drones to survey cell phone towers for antenna or cable damage in southeastern Texas. 


This is an important test for drones because it’s the second big hurricane since the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) relaxed its rules for drones, allowing insurance companies to fly them over houses to survey property damage. THe other major hurricane was Hurricane Matthew, which ripped through the eastern Caribbean and the southeastern U.S. last September and into early October. 


The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said that nearly 96,000 people in Texas are eligible and have been approved for financial aid to help with damages. Hurricane Harvey is expected to hit $30 billion in damages, analytics firm Enki Holdings told Slate. 


The drone sector growth forecast has been positive, according to experts. Worldwide drone unit sales grew by an estimated 60% last year, to 2.2 million units, which represents $4.5 billion in sales, according to research firm Gartner. For 2017, the firm sees drone production increasing by 39% year-over-year, to 3 million drones and $6 billion in sales. By 2020, sales are projected to hit $11.2 billion. 


The third top property insurer in Texas, Farmers Insurance, has already received more than 14,000 claims reports, a spokesperson told the New York Times on Wednesday. “Our fleet of drones and the claims professionals who will be operating them are currently on standby and ready to deploy when conditions make it safe to do so,” the company said in a statement. 



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