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New York City is exploring how drones equipped with thermal cameras and lidar can better identify flaws in exterior walls and roofs that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
Like many U.S. cities, New York City is looking to curb its carbon footprint as the impacts of climate change continue to worsen. It has set aggressive emissions reduction goals, aiming for a 50% decline in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. And with more than 70% of the city’s emissions produced by buildings from sources like heating, cooling and electricity, the Big Apple is turning to drones to help it spot where structural flaws in buildings waste energy and contribute to increased greenhouse gas emissions.
A new pilot program conducted by New York City’s Office of Technology and Innovation, or OTI, will test how drones can help city managers improve buildings’ energy efficiency by spotting energy leaks in exterior walls and roofs. Leveraging technology like thermal imaging, radar and deep learning, the program can help building managers determine how to make retrofits and future developments more energy efficient.
“[M]anual inspections are time consuming, labor intensive and intrusive,” Paul Rothman, director of smart cities and internet of things at OTI, said in an email to Route Fifty. “Thermal cameras on drones can clearly identify where energy loss is happening and allow us to perform more building inspections in a shorter period of time without requiring additional equipment, such as scaffolding or movable platform systems, or moving people out of their workspace.”
By pinpointing exactly where building damage or vulnerabilities exist, drones can reduce the need for expensive, large scale operations. “If it’s masonry, glass or seals, things that need to be replaced or fixed, [drones] help focus in on that problem area versus having to replace a larger swath of the overall building,” said Scott Shtofman, senior manager of government affairs at the nonprofit Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International.
Data from drones can also help environmental managers monitor emissions over time, and more closely track the impact of emissions reduction efforts. Plus, using drones instead of people for building assessments is a win for worker safety, Shtofman said.
It might be expensive upfront for an agency to buy a drone for building inspections, he said, but it’s likely to cost less than closing entire buildings or sidewalks and installing scaffolding for every inspection.
The drone pilot will start in November and last until August. It’s among the first initiatives to come out of New York City’s Smart City Testbed Program that launched earlier this month to explore and test tech-based solutions for city agencies. In one pilot already underway, the city installed 12 computer-vision sensors across four boroughs to collect street activity data that will allow planners to better understand the uses of city streets and inform future street redesigns. In another project, OTI and the Department of Citywide Administration Services will install devices that measure air quality and remove particulate matter.
Under the city’s testbed program, up to eight projects will run each year—with two six- to nine- month long projects launching each quarter. City agencies, private companies and academic institutions can apply to participate, but the projects must be self-funded, officials said. The city will offer selected applicants technical support, feedback and administrative guidance for legal and regulatory processes throughout their pilots.
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