Butkovitz unveils plans for potential drone usage
As part of an ongoing effort to explore how technology can be utilized to improve government function, City Controller Alan Butkovitz announced Wednesday that the city has been using drones to inspect dangerous buildings in neighborhoods across Philadelphia.
Butkovitz and his team selected four locations around the city to test the drone's capacity to make visual inspections. The drone was utilized to gain a broader view of collapsing buildings in Hunting Park, West Philadelphia, Point Breeze and South Philadelphia on Manton Street.
“Our latest project joins our record of technology initiatives since I first took office 10 years ago, including transparency over campaign finance reporting through our website and developing a mobile application that allows citizens to report fraud directly to our office,” Butkovitz said. “The immediate advantage of utilizing a drone was realized with the ability to cover more ground in less time, making the process more efficient and effective. We found a visual inspection of one block consisting of 56 homes could be completed in 30 seconds.”
The drone’s footage showed a view of several concerning conditions such as missing roofs, weak structures and adjoining properties that need to be addressed. These conditions could be seen only from an aerial view provided by the drone.
The drone that was tested was under the guidance of a professional videographer and compliant with the Federal Aviation Administration’s guidelines.
“This is just a demonstration project, we’re trying to persuade licensing and inspection to adopt this technology,”Butkovitz said. We’ve had very positive feedback from them and they seem interested and as we recited we can already foresee usage for fire departments. Major parts of the city and other cities have paved the way.”
Butkovitz added that as far as privacy goes, he is not interested in looking into Philadelphians' windows. However, drone use could go beyond an auditing purposes and be used as in certain rescue situations, he added.
All FAA regulations would need to be followed if the idea of city drone usage was officially approved. And drone operators would have to be trained and held accountable for operating the aerial technology.
“All the recent technology has raised privacy concerns I think that’s something that has to mature as the capabilities mature,” Butkovitz said.
Butkovitz said that the use of drones would not limit professional inspections conducted by the department Licenses and Inspections — which, according to Butkovitz, is very interested in the idea — but enable more thorough and complete inspections.
“It saves time so nobody is going to have to climb on a building to see the condition of the roof,” Butkovitz said. “For example, the problem the city is having right now is not having enough inspectors to go out and do the work in a timely fashion.”
Originally envisioned as simply a tool for L&I, Butkovitz said that the drone's capabilities could be broader than that.
Along with monitoring building conditions, drones could also be utilized for different purposes in the Streets Department, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, and SEPTA.
“It’s beyond the idea phase,” Butkovitz said. “I think the next stop would be to try and concretize on how this would work and be of service to certain departments.”