Insurance Companies Eye North Dakota, Test Site For Research Help

The potential for using unmanned aircraft systems in the insurance industry has some companies looking to North Dakota for help with researching applications.

The technology can be used for aerial inspection purposes that could help those companies evaluate damage to homes following severe weather, among other uses. The Northern Plains UAS Test Site, which researches the safe integration of unmanned aircraft into the national airspace, has seen interest from the industry.

“The test site is getting a lot of inquires on how to use UAS for roof inspections, property assessment, damage assessment,” said Chris Theisen, director of research and development for the test site.

The test site has flown more than 500 flights for an undisclosed insurance client since last year, which Theisen said have gone well.

The flights are conducted over properties that the insurance provider has received permission to include in the research.

At least one other insurance company is looking to conduct similar research with the test site.

The test site gets approval to conduct such research projects from UND’s UAS Research and Privacy Committee, which vets all research proposals involving drones connected to UND or the test site.

On Wednesday, the test site sought approval of an insurance mission set, which will create a set of standards that cover any future research project involving insurance clients. The proposal received unanimous approval from the committee.

Other research

The committee also approved two other proposals at its meeting.

One seeks to use unmanned aircraft to collect imagery of wildlife in North Dakota. The initiative is headed by the UND Biology Department but includes collaboration with nonprofits, consulting firms, government agencies and UAS businesses, according to a research application filed with the committee.

The research would take place over a one-year period starting Aug. 1. The first proposed flight seeks to survey duckling broods at the Coteau Ranch in Denoff, N.D., and develop protocols for such work.

The other approved proposal added the ability for researchers collaborating with Xcel Energy to fly a small drone for a previously approved project. Researchers received approval last month for a large unmanned aircraft to take images of simulated storm damage in Mayville, N.D. This latest approval would add a small drone as an option for collecting imagery.