Sunrise for #CRE Drones?

Sunrise for #CRE Drones?

So let’s get this out of the way; drones are scary. They are used by military types to wreak havoc and by various government agencies to spy. They are also frightning spy machines that can be used for any number of improper purposes.  Oh, and the FAA will fine you for using them improperly.

Yes indeed, drones (also know has Unmanned Aerial Devices or UAV’s) have been in the news a little lately.

But there must be some redeeming uses for this amazing technology.  After all, fire if used poorly can be devastating, but a crackling fire during the winter is a delightful experience.

Do drones, UAV’s or whatever we’d like to call them have a place in the corporate real estate world?

At the recent CoreNet Global Summit in LA, I moderated a panel* on this subject. The theme of the conference was “Disruptive Innovation”, and this topic seemed to fit right in.

Drones and the I word

Invasive or innovative? They are certainly disruptive technology. I feel like I have an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other: “Drones are evil!” “No, drones are cool!”

Like lots of disruptive technologies – cars and airplanes – there is a lot of skepticism and worry as they evolve. As an historical data point, no one would ride elevators when they first came out. In 1852, Elisha Otis introduced the safety elevator, which prevented the fall of the cab if the cable broke. Then the masses piled in, content to ride to the next level in life on an Otis.

So, despite the scary side of drones, can we afford to NOT look at the technology? I’d be willing to bet if you move on down the road, your competition will try to understand and leverage all manner of automation including drones.

Use Me Now…and Later

My CoreNet panel (bios below) had some revealing insights from their own drone experiences.

Tomislav Zigo discussed some of the current (and legally authorized) uses of drones at his construction and build-to-suit company Clayco:

  • Construction site data collection and progressing tracking
  • Safety monitoring
  • Hard to reach building area monitoring and inspection
  • 3D Modeling of sites and associated structures.

He talked about Clayco’s journey from one drone to their current fleet. “Drones have changed our business and given us a huge competitive edge,” he said.

Looking beyond, Tomislav opined that flying, terrestrial and even water based devices will combine into one technology platform. “Whether they are in the water or the air, these devices use the same circuits. They just use different methods to propel themselves around,” he said.

Peter Blake, Director of Flight Ops for data company Skycatch has current experience and use for drones in areas including:

  • Mining and agriculture
  • Utilities and railroads
  • Construction and disaster response

Peter  discussed significant productivity improvements and faster cycle times. For example, in agriculture he suggested farmers have achieved a 10% improvement in crop yields by more efficient farming with drone technology. That totals a cool $9.5 billion annually. That one fact might justify this whole party.

Another use revolved around scarcity of labor: “Faced with a looming shortage of skilled construction workers in Japan, ‘Smart Construction’ was born to fill the gap with automated dozers and excavators. But existing methods like ground-based scanners couldn’t deliver the necessary terrain data at the level of speed and accuracy needed to power the heavy machinery.” “Skycatch, partnership with Komatsu, created the world’s first machine-to-machine automated construction equipment.” Now we’re talking real savings, plus a pretty cool job site!

As Peter looks to the future, he sees drones moving to real time analysis capabilities and seamless indoor to outdoor use. “The technology will just keep getting better, and very quickly,” he said.

We also discussed drones that allow one to mount an iPhone on a drone (a so called “phlony”). The iPhone has such advanced and cost effective technology that some are combining the two technologies to work.

Keep Calm and Drone On

Kitty Henry, likely the only real estate lawyer who is also a drone expert in the United States, worked to keep us in puns. Despite the current legal turbulence, she forecasted blue skies ahead once regulators level out and promulgate the forthcoming rules.

“Liability is a huge deal, just now,” said Kitty. “Even if you follow the rules and do everything right, getting basic liability insurance can be an adventure,” Kitty continued, heading for a high level legal perspective.

She also told us that the FAA is rushing out new regulations as quickly as they can. Apparently they are concerned about millions of drones that will be given as Christmas gifts this year. Maybe one will be under your tree?

There are a number of safety devices under development including leashes or tethers for these devices. These kinds of things make lawyers smile; I can attest from first hand experience.

Kitty gave a top down review of current drone regulations. We did discover a new app that shows where it’s legal to fly a drone in certain areas. This is the beginning of removing uncertainty around operating guidelines.

Bringing it in for a Landing

Based on our discussion in LA, I do think we are on the precipice of a huge technological change that will definitely impact #CRE. At this moment drones are being used to showcase assets with stunning new perspectives, allow facilities inspections at whole new levels and provide new ways to secure large campuses. Perhaps the most exciting use now is the ability to gather huge caches of data and use the information to be smarter about construction, maintenance or energy consumption. More automated construction projects and even automated building services beckon in the future. George Jetson on line 2.

In some sense it feels like June 29th, 2007, which of course was the date of the release of the first iPhone. Who could have envisioned that those devices would be with us every step of our lives and be virtually indispensible?

On a corporate real estate level, drones are like brand new babies in their cribs. But they will grow up quickly into young millennial devices. It’ll be fun to watch how this changes our industry. I also look forward to hearing of the many uses of this technology we haven’t event thought of yet. Feel free to comment your ideas below.

I hope to see your drone pictures from this Christmas. And no more selfies, send me your dronies, will you?


*My co-panelist were top notch:

 Peter Blake, Stanford California – Director of Flight Operations, Skycatch a drone data company

Peter is a distinguished leader and decorated combat veteran in the aviation field. Military career culminated in a highly selective role as Chief Executive Officer (commander) of a Marine Corps fighter squadron. He is a Sloan Fellow from Stanford University and has worked on the Skycatch team for about a year and a half. He previously was a strategy and technology consultant at another firm.


Tomislav Zigo, St Louis, Missouri Director of Virtual Design and Construction, Clayco which is one of the top design build contractors in the US. He is a leader in Building Information Management (“BIM”) systems.

Over the past 19 years Tomislav has been an advocate of digital technology implementation as a researcher, designer and over past six years as a designer – builder. His experience includes work in the vanguard of BIM methodology implementation on large healthcare, institutional and industrial projects; research work in the field of Building Performance Analysis; optimization and use of mobile and immersive technology and mentorship positions in a number of local and national architectural firms during their transition toward BIM adoption.

Currently he leads Clayco’s VDC department and teaches at Washington University in St. Louis.


Kitty Henry, Shareholder, Munsch, Hardt, Kopf & Harr

Kitty chair’s the firm’s office and industrial leasing team. She works with multiple institutional landlords for whom she drafts and negotiates leases. In addition, she represent tenants of all types, from large corporations whose leases she handles on a nationwide basis to businesses opening their first location.

And, she’s the most experience drone attorney in #CRE.