Peter C. Ferretti, GIS coordinator at Baxter & Woodman, and ComEd’s Senior Project Engineer Dara Randerson form a panel moderated by Co-Leader of Drone team at Husch Blackwell Thomas L. Gemmell discussing the technology, utility, and limitations of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). Thomas explains some of the small unmanned aircraft system (UAS) rules set by the Federal Aviation Administration and also discusses the changes implemented in them.

Some of our key takeaways from the conversation:

  1. Uses and Advantages of UAV Over Traditional Methods:
    Drone technology offers thorough and more detailed inspection of large structures such as bridges and transmission lines without compromising the safety of site engineers. Drones with specialized imaging mechanisms, such as FLIR and NDIV, can be used for search and rescue mission by police, precision agriculture, and storm damage assessment.
  2. Hurdles in Using UAVs:
    The weak battery life of most UAVs and the inability to fly them at night considerably hampers their utility. Additional rules under section 333 (i.e. flying in line of sight) are also an operational limitation. Perhaps, the most crucial challenge faced when using UAVs is the prevention of privacy infringement.
  3. FAA Loosens Reign with Part 107 (Small UAS Rules):
    The new reforms have made drone delivery possible, provided the drone and the payload is less than 55lb. With waivers, visual observers can be used for daisy chain operations, data collection. Additionally, the use of multiple UAS per pilot is now allowed.

Below are some of the key points and moments from the conversation:

  • 0:47 – Tom Gemmell introduces the panel comprised of Peter C. Ferretti and Dara Randerson
  • 5:46 – Baxter & Woodman uses DJI’s Phantom series drone technology; ComEd utilizes DJI S900 and DJI S900 as well as Aeryon Skyranger
  • 9:50 – Baxter & Woodman intends to utilize UAS for real-time orthoimagery, changeover times, and raster analysis as well as inspection work for risky areas
  • 12:22 – UAS offers more detailed inspection outcomes compared to the traditional methods used for search and rescue by police departments and assist precision agriculture
  • 17:55 – Beyond visual line of sight, technical issues of low endurance and power, adhering to the codes of section 333, and inability to fly at night are some of the operational limitations of UAS
  • 28:31 – Part 107 of drone regulations allows drone delivery and data collection as well as use of multiple UAS
  • 31:23 – Q&A – Is the FAA going to continue to process section 333 exemption petitions?
  • 33:13 – What are the restrictions against data collection around private properties and municipality?
  • 35:24 – Is the data collected by drones for the municipality accessible to everyone?*
  • 37:14 – What are the rules for using drones for filming movies?*
  • 37:55 – How do different software process data from drones?


GIS coordinator at Baxter & Woodman
ComEd’s Senior Project Engineer