By Nicole Hennessy
With no media present or crowd gathered, Lakewood city employees headed down to the cliffs bordering the city to test a newly purchased drone Jan. 15.
Required by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the city must service and monitor 130 sewer pipes that empty into Lake Erie.
Now, thanks to a new drone, this task will be much simpler and will not require extra funds allocated to workers or equipment within the yearly budget.
The Phantom, manufactured by DJI, a creative technologies company specializing in unmanned aerial systems, came with a price tag of approximately $1,200.
Public works director Joe Beno said upon researching options similar to this to more safely abide by EPA mandates, he was surprised the drone was so inexpensive.
“This wasn’t an option five years ago, I’m guessing,” he added. “And if it was an option, it wasn’t as cool; it didn’t have the features that this one has.”
Flown with a smartphone or tablet application, the user can monitor and steer the Phantom on the screen. The device also has a self-retrieval setting that allows it to fly back to its starting point if it senses the battery is low.
Though the drone was purchased for pipe outlet monitoring, future city uses may include checking lake conditions or monitoring erosion along the cliffs.
The word drone often has a negative connotation. But, Beno asked rhetorically, “Why do I care what people have going on in their house?”
There are a few other areas of the city that are expected to be included on the list of approved Phantom use. Structures, on top of which the device could be flown, are tall city buildings. This will help determine whether or not roofs need repairs, again without putting city or outsourced workers in danger or needing to utilize expensive equipment.
On a successful first day of testing, not much preparation was involved in getting the battery-operated drone up and running.
In fact, Mark Papke, Lakewood’s city engineer, said the only training involved in flying the device is spending a bit of time getting used to the controls, which, for the time being, will be handled by himself and the city’s technician, Robert J. Erickson.
As is the case with any innovative technology, he said, “It’s obviously an exciting point of discussion around the dinner table, that you’re flying a drone around.
“I think people are interested in it.”
Also, echoing Beno, he said, “We’re not spying on people or looking for any violations. It’s more or less for our stormwater program and, like I said, to reach areas that may help us on a safety aspect.”