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Claims-worthy Imagery; a Hybrid Approach

New Advances in Aerial Imagery Provide Viable Solution to Claims Adjusting

Susan Williams    |    Insurance

Every day it seems we see something in the news about insurers testing the feasibility of using drones to support claims adjusting. After all, using drones to gather imagery is better than the current alternative, which is to risk a climb by adjustors, engineers and inspectors onto roofs that may already be unstable or subject to additional damage by simply walking on them. However, whether it’s a fixed-wing style or a multi-rotor quadcopter, drones have ranges and flight times that are limited by their weight and battery life, and their small size makes them vulnerable to high winds and harsh weather conditions. This means that using a drone for post-catastrophe response still generally requires boots-on-the-ground somewhere in the neighborhood of the home or natural hazard event; a proposition that‘s challenging given weather conditions, infrastructure issues and the risk of interfering with first responders and aid-workers. Insurers that are currently piloting drone programs are doing so under a 333 Exemption* from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Until the FAA finalizes its regulations, it is not yet clear what regulatory limitations may ultimately apply to the commercial use of drones. This further complicates the full adoption and use of drones for insurance claims adjustment.

Hail Damage in TX in April

Hail Damage in TX in April

Previously, using aerial imagery for claims adjusting after a catastrophic event wasn’t a viable alternative to the use of drone-collected imagery because of the difference in resolution. However, innovations in aerial cameras and stabilization technology now provide resolutions that rival that of drone-collected imagery. Color imagery with resolutions of less than three inches is now available for commercial application. When combined with enhanced real-time ortho-rectification*, claims-worthy images can be available for adjustors, resource deployment and reserve managers in less than two hours post-flight.

Another supporting technology is the ability to scramble a plane and use enhanced weather forensics to define a data-collection flight path en route based on the actual event footprint. This earlier collection of images combined with ultra-high resolution aerial imagery that is processed in real-time gives insurers the ability to transform the customer’s claims experience; a process that may currently take weeks or months to resolve and leaves customers dissatisfied and vulnerable to predatory contractors. Imagine being able to desk-adjust a homeowner claim for hail or wind damage and dispatch approved contractors at first notice of loss.

The availability of this new imagery lends itself to a hybrid approach for claims settlement—the use of ultra-high resolution, low-altitude aerial imagery of major events to desk-adjust most claims while reserving the boots-on-the-ground and drone data collection as appropriate for complicated or questionable claims that need additional research. Insurers could increase their responsiveness to customers in greatest need while at the same time reducing the risk and expense of deploying adjustors to the scene.

*By law, any aircraft operation in the national airspace requires a certificated and registered aircraft, a licensed pilot, and operational approval.Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (FMRA) (PDF) grants the Secretary of Transportation the authority to determine whether an airworthiness certificate is required for a UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) to operate safely in the National Airspace System (NAS). See the FAA web site for more details related to the Section 333 Exemption.

*Ortho-rectification is the correction of an image’s geometry so it appears as if every pixel were acquired from directly overhead across the swath of the image.

*Note that the limitations of web pages prevent the display of actual ultra-high resolution imagery.

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