Drone Helps Architects Restore Historic Building | KUOW News and Information

Drone Helps Architects Restore Historic Building

Jun 26, 2014
Originally published on June 25, 2014 11:21 am

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The Federal Aviation Administration ruled this week that Amazon and others cannot use drones to deliver packages — grounding a dream by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to streamline delivery times. The FAA says the commercial use of drones will remain illegal until further notice.

But with certain restrictions, drones can be used for research purposes, like helping with the restoration of a historic building in Camden, New Jersey. It withstood British occupation and cannonball practice during the Revolutionary War, but caught on fire on Thanksgiving 2012.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Emma Jacobs of WHYY reports.

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Transcript

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

The Federal Aviation Administration ruled this week that Amazon and others cannot use drones to deliver packages, grounding a dream of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' to streamline delivery times. The FAA says the commercial use of drones will remain illegal until further notice. But with certain restrictions, drones can be used for noncommercial purposes, like helping with the restoration of a historic building in Camden, New Jersey. It withstood British occupation and cannonball practice during the Revolutionary War, but caught fire on Thanksgiving, 2012. From the HERE AND NOW Contributors Network, WHYY's Emma Jacobs reports.

EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: A tree is growing up through the middle of the Benjamin Cooper House, a now abandoned 18th-century tavern on the Delaware River Waterfront in Camden, New Jersey. Light brown tarps cover portions of the collapsed roof, and the windows of the two-story brick building are all covered in plywood. A family of raccoons lives inside. In the past, the team of historic preservationists at the site would be surveying all this from the boom of a cherry picker. But on this day, they're seeing it all through the eyes of a three-pound drone named Howie.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRONE WHIRRING)

ANNABELLE RADCLIFFE-TRENNER: Over...

SOPHIA JONES: Over where?

RADCLIFFE-TRENNER: Keep it away, away from us.

JONES: Over doesn't tell me anything.

RADCLIFFE-TRENNER: OK, stop. Stop, stop, stop.

JACOBS: Howie flies suspended from four whirring propellers. He relays video to the ground, which Annabelle Radcliffe-Trenner says is so good, she can see details as small as a nail. The head of historic preservation architects is not at the controls.

RADCLIFFE-TRENNER: I crashed it the first day we had it, so nobody's allowing me to fly. (Laughing) So I don't fly. They fly. I just watch. I watch the videos afterwards.

JACOBS: Howie is helping her team figure out how to do what's called mothballing, or stabilizing the building in its current state of decay. This is one of the early steps towards a full renovation, and using their own drone saves several thousand dollars that would otherwise be spent renting a cherry picker.

RADCLIFFE-TRENNER: We could get a boom. But a boom is much more expensive, whereas with this, they're not very expensive.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRONE WHIRRING)

JACOBS: Well, Radcliffe-Trenner says they hope they can eventually program in GPS coordinates and let Howie explore historic buildings on his own. Sophia Jones is behind the controls for now, directing Howie in and around the collapsed roof.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRONE WHIRRING)

RADCLIFFE-TRENNER: I'm hoping you're going to scare the raccoons, and they'll disappear for the day.

JACOBS: Even though Howie looks and feels like a toy, Jones says others in the field who use very modern technology, like ground-penetrating radar, still get excited to see him out.

JONES: Did I ever think, if you would have asked me, like, five years ago, that I would be flying a drone on one of my projects? I would probably say no, but I think it's a wonderful thing. And if they continue to come out with more stuff that we can use, we definitely will try to utilize it.

JACOBS: The next project for Howie - circling the dome of a Byzantine church in Philadelphia. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Emma Jacobs in Camden, New Jersey. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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