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Insurance eyes a drone takeover

By Jay MacDonald ·
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Posted: 6 am ET

Unmanned, remote-controlled aerial drones have been criticized as the harbinger of a heartless police state -- or perhaps worse, the mechanical Four Horsemen of an Amazon commercial apocalypse.

But if predictions from the home insurance industry prove correct, that drone you hear overhead in the years fast approaching could be busy saving lives and speeding insurance claims following natural or man-made disasters.

That's right: Instead of Dr. Evil at the joystick, think the deep-voiced, reassuring Allstate guy or that professorial dean at Farmers University.

Drones would survey disaster scenes

Here's how Jason Wolf, a Florida property defense attorney, described just such a plausible civilian drone deployment to the insurance industry publication Claims Journal:

"I envision a time when, after a catastrophe, an adjuster pulls up to a neighborhood and opens the trunk of his car and presses a few buttons on his tablet device and the drone does an immediate survey of everything and streams it all right to his tablet device, and he knows exactly where to go first and what's most significant … within minutes," Wolf says. "Costing very little money, the insurance company has a sense of everything that needs to be done in a very short amount of time."

Wouldn't that drone strike have been welcome in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina or Superstorm Sandy?

In the insurance industry's view, drones could not only speed up claims adjusting, but eliminate entirely the hazards faced by boots-on-the-rubble human adjusters, as well as the need for affected home and business owners to even meet their adjuster.

"You may not even need to go up on the roof," says Wolf. "You can see every single inch of the entire property, just with the touch of a few buttons."

The not-so-distant future

Insurers say drone adjusting could be just a few years away. The Federal Aviation Administration already has drone testing sites in Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia, with additional tests slated in Hawaii, Oregon and New Jersey.

Not that all the bugs have been worked out just yet. The idea of giant mechanical mosquitoes swarming in after a storm could prove both a privacy concern as well as an airborne hazard if those drones collide.

Grant Goldsmith, president of Overwatch, a division of Avalon Risk Management, which provides high-risk insurance for international contractors, says privacy concerns are fueled more by science fiction than statutory reality. The FAA website says no approval is needed to fly a model aircraft under 400 feet for non-commercial purposes.

"There's technically not a law that says you can't do it. There’s just a rule that says you shouldn't do it," Goldsmith told Claims Journal.

Swarms of drones?

As for overhead drone duels, he says operators consider the likelihood remote, so to speak.

"When you're talking about operating something hand-held, within line of sight, that they're in control of on a blue sky weather day that's not really larger than a model aircraft and it's not going beyond their line of sight for hours and hours, they see that as very small risk," he says.

How about it, America? Are you ready for drone insurance adjusting?

Speaking of the future, check out this blog on insuring self-driving vehicles.

Follow me on Twitter: @omnisaurus.

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