Article written by John Wickes, Vice President at Wickes/arborists™, Robolliance Expert
One of the main purposes for Robolliance is to expand one’s mind to the applications robots can have. In my profession, I am experiencing robotics’ impact and its ability to transform how my industry does business.
If you've been paying attention to the use of drones in both the private and public sector, it should not be surprising that this technology is starting to be used more regularly in the tree care industry. Drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), allow arborists to get an overview of one or more trees in a quick, efficient manner, without the use of ladders or cranes. Although drones cannot replace hands-on inspections, they will likely improve the quality and efficiency of tree care in the future with an important assist to the arborist.
One of the more promising roles for drones is in risk assessment for properties with many trees or large swaths of forest. Examining large numbers of trees by car can cause inspectors to miss details, and doing walk-by inspections can be slow and tedious. Drones give tree care professionals the power to make limited visual assessments of pest infestations, drought, and overall tree health. Unlike a walk-by or drive-by inspection, drones can see parts of the tree that are susceptible to problems but aren't normally seen by people on the ground. Once a drone provides a general overview, a more detailed inspection can be handled in-person by a professional.
UAVs are a potentially powerful tool, but their legal status is currently in limbo with the Federal Aviation Administration. Many jurisdictions offer permits for drones to operate above fields and other public spaces for special needs, but there is no comprehensive regulation that makes it clear where and when it's not okay to use the technology. Whether or not UAVs will obtain the permission they need to be helpful in the tree care industry in the future is unclear.
The need for experienced tree inspectors will always be crucial. Hands-on inspections with the right equipment can determine if a tree failure is improbable or imminent. A professional, who can get close to a tree, can spot potential issues that can be missed by even the most advanced UAVs on todays market. However, the future of drones in the tree care industry is quite promising, affording arborists a completely different vantage point of trees in distress.