Aerial assessment: The insurance adjuster is a drone

Drone inspections are fast becoming the new norm for insurance companies, and that's creating new industry alliances.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

Drone delivery may be taking off slowly in the U.S. thanks to strict FAA oversight, but drones have become a key tool for inspection in many industries. Now, that includes the insurance sector, where damage assessments are frequently performed by drones equipped with machine vision and AI. 

That fact was driven home with an announcement from Kespry, a drone-based aerial intelligence company, which has teamed up with Grinnell Mutual, a leading property casualty insurance company and the nation's largest primary reinsurer of farm mutual companies, to help with residential and commercial roof inspections. 

Late last year, The Travelers Companies, a major national insurer, made a substantial investment in drone operations software company Kittyhawk, strengthening the partnership between those companies. Travelers launched its drone operations program in 2016 in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.

Grinnell Mutual has begun using Kespry drones and aerial intelligence platform to take high-resolution photos that are rapidly blended into single, composite 3-D images of roofs. AI and machine learning-based algorithms provide assessments to help adjusters determine damage, such as often occurs after a storm. 

"What's nice about the Kespry system is we can knock out an average inspection within about 15 minutes," said Chuck Tremain, Property Large Loss Specialist, Grinnell Mutual. "Without a drone, a roof inspection can take up to two hours. With the drone, I have the data right there. I can look at it on-site and actually make some decisions on the spot, which is nice. Our policyholders and contractors have trusted the data and found that it is accurate. It makes us feel like we're doing our job and getting policyholders taken care of. We're making good on the promise we make to our policyholders."

Kespry's other customers include mining and construction companies, which use drones to monitor and model large-scale projects. 

Overall, the drone inspection market, worth about $18B last year, is expected to explode. By some estimates, it could triple, reaching $42.5B by 2024. Much of the growth is driven by infrastructure and utilities inspection, though the march into residential and corporate insurance and construction should be key drivers as well.

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