An up close and personal look at drone technology

     The idea of an unmanned aerial vehicle – or drone -- has been around for quite some time.  Early attempts to use an unsophisticated, unpiloted aircraft are documented as early as the U.S. Civil War. Both Union and Confederate troops launched balloons loaded with explosivesduring the mid-1800s in the hope that the balloons would drop down inside ammunition or supply depots and explode.

     But the balloons were at the mercy of the Mother Nature’s winds and proved largely ineffective.

    Today, drones are well on their way to becoming a staple in modern society.  They are used for surveillance, engineering, documentation, entertainment and fun.  But the technology continues to grow by leaps and bounds.  In fact, just last year, Dubai tested a drone taxi service which flew a test flight for about five minutes in September. 

     On Wednesday, March 7, 2018, more than two dozen Central Ohio IFMA Chapter members gathered for a lunchtime demonstration from Mike Cairns of Aerial Image Solutions and Infinite Impact.  He brought the latest and greatest to test out indoors as snow squalls and flurries mixed outside for a very unsafe, and unpleasant, test environment. 

     Cairns held a similar demonstration for the group about a year and a half ago, and the technological advancement in the industry has been astonishing.

     Cairns indicated that likely the largest part of his business is in data capturing – meaning drone photography, video, 3D media and mapping, 3D scanning, thermal detection, and ground penetrating radar. 

     Drone photography has grown immensely with the use of better cameras. Standard in the industry is 20 pixels so that there is some ability to zoom in for incredible detail, but stronger lenses can give even better pictures when necessary.  Cairns showed examples of photos of an apartment complex where the owner wanted to determine how tenants were taking care of the property and for future planning purposes. 

     The use of drone photography is also important for inspection and documentation.  Cairns and his crew have done some recent work at the John Glenn International Airport in Columbus during a large construction project for both planning and historical purposes.  During envelope inspections, Cairns added that drones are much more cost effective, safe and efficient.

     “Getting close proximity without having to go up in a scissor lift or hang over a ledge while tied in, a drone gives you the flexibility to get a better understanding of all the details of your building in a more efficient way,” said Cairns.

     And because drones are capable of returning to the exact same position, they can also be used for comparative photography or video.

     Drones also have the capability to utilize 3D, 360 degree photography and video.  “It’s interactive and pretty compelling depending on what you are using it for,” said Cairns. 

     Using a digital stitching process, drones can also take hundreds of aerial shots which can be digitally manipulated to form one giant map in either 2D or 3D.  For example, digital mapping can determine how much dirt is left in a stockpile, or can map a rooftop for inspection and repair. 

     Cairns stresses that using a drone is often safer.  Drones can reach many places that are tough for humans to reach, dangerous, or involve hazardous materials.  For example, Cairns and his staff are developing a prototype protection system for one of their drones so that it will be able to enter storage drums for inspection.  The webbed protection that surrounds the drone is flexible and allows the drone to “bump” into things, lightly, without flipping over or crashing.  Cairns demonstrated the contraption inside the Electrical Trades Center of Central Ohio where IFMA Chapter members met in March, demonstrating its dexterity and utility in a small, confined space. 

     In the not too far off future, Cairns predicts that drones will be used for deliveries, physical transfers, rope leads, tool transfers on job sites, and eventually transportation for humans, like the taxi prototypes being tested in Dubai.

     Cairns brought three of his drones to the Central Ohio IFMA demonstration including the Phantom 4 Pro (most common), the Mavic Air (portable and foldable), and the Inspire 2, by far the largest of the group.  He demonstrated the Mavic Air inside its protective web, maneuvering it throughout the conference room as Central Ohio IFMA Chapter members and their guests ate lunch. 

     In just a few years, drones have enhanced and redefined a variety of industries.  Said Cairns, the possibilities of drone development are endless.

     For more information and some pretty compelling photos, visit