How to Use Drones in the Public Sector and Procure Their Services

Spend Matters welcomes this guest post from Public Spend Forum, a sister site of ours that each week helps us look at public sector procurement. This week we explore the increasing use of drones — in agriculture, construction, emergency response — and how to procure those services.

We are truly in the modern era — drones are now everywhere, no longer just tools for movie making or toys for tech-savvy teens. And “everywhere” includes their increasing use in the public sector. Between 2016 and 2017, drone bids and RFPs saw a growth of 194%. To properly cover this important topic, this article will focus on:

    1. What drones can be used for in the public sector
    2. Tips to keep in mind when procuring drones

The Use of Drones

What do you think when you think of drones? Probably not construction or agriculture, but drones are becoming hugely useful in these industries. This is part of the reason why drones have become so popular in the public sector in recent years, and why you need to know about drone procurement.

Precision Agriculture

Image courtesy of University of Minnesota

Drones are incredibly detail-oriented, which means they can work wonders in the field of agriculture. Using drones can allow farmers to count and manage crops, monitor the health and irrigation of crops and spray pesticides, resulting in lower costs and higher crop yields. Plus, most drones are advanced enough that they can carry out these processes semi-autonomously, especially with the advent of geofencing, which limits the area of autonomous activity.

Helping with Infrastructure

Drones are so useful here that they are quickly becoming essential to the construction process. They can continuously collect useful data throughout all stages of construction, creating orthomosaics and 3-D maps. Orthomosaics are especially helpful because, like regular maps, they have been corrected so that distances can be measured within the photograph. This is especially useful in the initial drone survey of the construction site, which can help people working on the project build a better plan of action. Drones can then be used to carry out regular surveys of the building process, usually daily or weekly, leading to more efficient use of resources.

This situation has many benefits, not only for those planning the construction — who are now able to do most of their work without ever stepping foot on the construction site — but also for those on the ground doing the construction. Drones can spot potentially unsafe areas and work to keep workers away from risky places. Even though drones do a better job at aerial mapping, they also happen to be much cheaper than the alternatives of professionally manned aerial vehicles. Not only that, but they can also cut the time spent on surveying almost in half. When this many advantages are possible from the use of drones, why wouldn’t the government wish to procure more?

Search and Rescue

Image courtesy of OnyxStar

When death can result from delays in reaching the person and if a drone can buy even a minute of time, it can mean the world — but, thankfully, a drone can do more than that. One of the drone’s largest strengths is its bird’s-eye view, which, especially when combined with thermal imagery, can find people in need much more quickly. They can then also be used to drop essential supplies, such as medicine or water, to the victim.

In emergency situations such as a house fire in which first responders will be in a hazardous environment, drones can deliver emergency supplies, creating less risk of human life. In a similar vein, drones would be able to safely monitor chemical spills, radioactivity or other dangerous situations so that lives can be saved without people being put at risk.

Hurricane Hunting

Although there are some adrenaline junkies who consider this a sport, hurricane hunting can be very dangerous to people, but for drones, it’s not a problem. They can be equipped with sensors that allow them to effectively monitor the storm, allowing for the forecasting that can save countless lives.

Wildlife Preservation

Big, loud, clumsy humans are ill-suited to the task of monitoring wildlife, but drones can get a crystal-clear view of threatened or endangered species without the disturbances that a human presence might cause. This is especially important for animals on the edge of extinction, as knowing their precise numbers is often crucial to their survival as a species.

Procurement of Drones

So now we know that drones are useful for many tasks within the public sector, and using them can actually cut costs in most cases. Then the only question to ask is how should you get your hands on these beautiful machines? We have some tips for you on this front.

Consider the Situation

(Image courtesy of Elite Core Web) With so many kinds of drones, it can be difficult to know which one is best for what job.

Though they are often marketed as toys, it actually takes a good deal of expertise to operate a drone on a professional level. Plus, before even flying the drone, you have to consider what kind of drone would be best in the situation. There are many types out there — as well as what attachments are needed to get the job done.

Often, if you don’t have direct and easy access to drone experts, it can be better to contract out the job to a drone service provider instead of trying to obtain the drones themselves. The best way to go in this situation is an end-product contract. This contract stipulates the job that you would like to be completed, and nothing else. That means that it’s up to the company awarded the contract to decide what the most efficient way would be to complete that project — they may even decide that drones aren’t the way to go. By putting more power in the hands of experts, you can often complete the project with more efficiency and less stress. However, it should be noted that if you would use the drone constantly, it would be a waste of time to contract it out every time. In that case, you should begin the process of procuring drones.

Regulations

Because drones are such a fast-growing technology, many laws already regulate their use, so you want to make sure that you’re aware of all regulations placed on drone use in your area, be they federal, state or local. This might also influence your decision of drone type or attachment, or even whether to contract out a project.

The biggest boss in drone regulation is the Federal Aviation Administration, which has released a State and Local Regulation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Fact Sheet that should be your first reading assignment, as it offers the first operational rules for routine, non-recreational use of drones that are under 55 pounds — in other words, most drones. The most important regulations to keep in mind from this fact sheet are:

  1. The drone must be within sight line of the operator.
  2. Restricted airspace as designated by federal law is most often off-limits to drones.

There are plenty more within the document, and in addition to that, 40 states and 135 local governments have enacted laws relating to public-sector drone use.

Be Specific

Buying lead times for drones are quite short, since they’re mass produced and come out of the factory ready to fly. However, your RFP should still include all the details that you’ve thought out beforehand, like a description of the project to serve as an explanation for the application, the type and quantity you need, when they should be delivered, and any other performance requirements.

Safety

Many drones in the public sector are used to increase the safety of others, so they should certainly be safe in and of themselves. For this reason, all government drones should be equipped with the ability to sense and avoid other aircraft, as well as have running lights. Their pilots should also have training in drone operation — which is where the contracting might come in handy.

Ultimately, drones are a just a piece of technology, so they can be hacked like any other wireless device. Not only should they be furnished with physical safety equipment, their cybersecurity should also be taken into consideration. The data link that connects the drone with the operator should be strongly protected.

Other Services

Many drone purveyors don’t just offer drones — they know the importance of expertise when it comes to drone use. That’s why many also provide training, maintenance, repairs, warranties and other value-added services. Look for providers that offer all, or at least some of these services.

The numbers show overwhelmingly that drone use is on the rise, and no wonder. With so many efficient, cost-cutting, safety-increasing uses, it would be quite a mystery if the public sector didn’t use drones. Hopefully, with these tips, you can be confident in jumping on the bandwagon and increasing public-sector drone usage even more.

Read more from Public Spend Forum here, and check out GovShop to find government suppliers and information on them.

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First Voice

  1. Peter:

    Thanks for the great article. I enjoyed it sir!

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