Innovation and changeGame of drones: ODS launches commercial drone services in Oxford

Game of drones: ODS launches commercial drone services in Oxford

Drones viewed as an additional revenue stream from surveying, mapping, photography and filming services

Oxford Direct Services (ODS), the service delivery and commercial arm of Oxford City Council, is to start providing drone-based services to include roof and building surveying, land mapping, aerial photography and filming.

As far as is known, this is the first time a council owned organisation has brought drone services in-house and shows the innovative approach ODS is adopting to generate revenue since Oxford City Council created the wholly owned company in April 2018. All ODS’ profits will be used to fund public services in the community.

ODS is Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) licensed and approved to offer commercial services with qualified and insured pilots. ODS will operate fully in accordance with best practice and GDPR rules and regulations in relation to permission to fly, safety and the privacy of residents.

Initially, ODS will focus on surveying the roofs of 7,800 properties it maintains on behalf of Oxford City Council. The use of drones will save time, drive down costs and reduce the health and safety challenges typically encountered with this type of work. Commercial surveying, mapping, aerial photography and filming will be competitively priced consistent with each customer’s specific requirements.

Ben Strang, ODS’ project leader of drone services, explained: “I was a felt roofer for 15 years. If you’re working on low to high rise housing blocks to identify, for example, pest entry points or find roof leaks, putting up scaffolding is at best a very hit and miss process. You erect the scaffolding where you think the source of issue lies but guaranteed it’s not there and then you waste time and money moving the scaffolding tower. Using a drone resolves this and helps us pinpoint exactly where we need to work so that we can do first time fixes and enhance efficiency.”

In addition, drones are a clean, environmentally friendly, relatively quiet and unobtrusive way of surveying compared to using scaffolding or motorised elevated platforms.

Strang added: “We’ll be very proactive with residents to safeguard their privacy. This means we’ll inform people by letter when we’ll be operating, the reasons for it and offer them the footage if they so wish.  This is all documented in our operations manual which had to be approved by the CAA as part of our licensing process.”

ODS has invested in an off-the-shelf DJI Phantom 4 Advanced quadcopter drone, which has excellent safety systems and is simple to fly using a remote controller with built-in screen.  Offering up to 30 minutes flight timeper battery, the DJI Phantom drone comes with dual-band satellite positioning [GPS and GLONASS], five vision sensors for obstacle detection and is equipped with a one inch 20 Mega Pixel camera capable of shooting 4K super HD video and stills.

All drone operators need the permission of the individual landowner to fly over their land.  In the Oxford area, drone services can be delivered quickly as ODS is already authorised by the council to do this.

Simon Howick, Oxford Direct Services’ managing director, said: “Hiring a drone firm costs between £300-£1000 to survey a roof, with scaffolding also expensive and cumbersome. It made total sense to invest in the drone equipment, flight training and licensing and add this skillset to our portfolio.  It’ll pay for itself within a year, we’ll save money for our main customer – Oxford City Council – with drones becoming an additional revenue stream given we can now offer local businesses and residents surveying, mapping, photography and filming services.”

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