Drones assessing the scale of destruction and looting in Durban

 As life in South Africa – already severely hamstrung by COVID-19-induced lockdowns – struggles to return to a semblance of normalcy following the violence and looting of July 7, drone-based structural condition auditing start-up, Delta Scan has again deployed the Elios 2 drone to work, this time to assess the scale of destruction visited upon some buildings in EThekwini Municipality in KwaZulu Natal Province.  

To all intents and purposes, it is perhaps not the kind of job one might enjoy doing, having to fly into these scenes of utter desolation where lives were lost and livelihoods might not be returning for the foreseeable future for a lot of the affected operators.

But somebody has to break down the cost of the protests into words and figures of simple syllable; and that is exactly what Delta Scan have been send to do in Durban.

Preliminary national estimates by the South African Property Owners Association have judged the scale of destruction to be around $3,4billion, with roughly 261 malls, eleven warehouses, eight factories and 161 liquor centres suffering extensive damage, mainly in the provinces KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng.

That is to say nothing of the nearly 50,000 small business that had to suffer this cruel fate and whose prospects of returning look really bleak because most of them were not insured. Regular readers will remember the sad case of Wayne Kennedy, who lost two agricultural drones worth about $50,000 to looters in Durban, and had to desperately send out an SOS on social media, even going to the extent of offering R20,000 for the return of the drones.

So far, his pleas have been in vain.

“It’s currently difficult to assess what the total cost of the unrest is because there are areas which are still volatile, particularly in KZN. However, the damage is likely to cost north of R20bn in KZN and the cost to the country is likely [to be] north of R50bn,” Thabi Leoka, an independent economist told the Financial Times last week. “The biggest loss, apart from the loss of lives, is the loss of jobs that many will incur because their places of work no longer exist.”

The Elios 2 has been flying to inspect the damage on Durban buildings

Now with the situation a bit calm, the drones are flying in to take stock of what really happened.

“We were called to send our team down to Durban as soon as the fires started to assist the property owners, insurers, and engineering investigating teams with getting inside the buildings and determining the extent of damages,” said Darryl Epstein, the Delta Scan Managing Director. “Using drone technology designed for confined space environments together with digital analysis tools and Artificial Intelligence (AI), we needed to assess damages and get to hard-to-reach areas before any rescue teams or building assessors could enter.

According to Epstein, Delta Scan would use the drones to record aerial images of the buildings before entering them into a software that would create digital replicas of the, inside and out, with which engineering teams could work from their offices around the country wherever they may be based.

For the smooth flow of operations, Epstein acknowledged that his ground team has been working in cooperation with the property owners, insurers, MEP teams, and engineers to ensure all the information is recorded.

“Confined space drone platforms allow us to fly deep inside the wreckages and inspect critical connections and support components to determine if the building is going to collapse,” Epstein said, adding that the company’s custom-developed cloud platforms enable them to get information to the critical teams quickly, without having to download gigabytes of data.


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