The drones are flying at Travelers

CIO.com got a demonstration of drones in action at Travelers' Claims University, a 200,000-square foot-plus facility where 7,000 insurance professionals go each year to learn how the data-driven claim analysis business works.

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How Drones help insurance firm survey property damage

Drones have captured the attention of consumers and businesses alike. Despite stringent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations that make drone use virtually impossible in populated areas, companies from a wide range of industries are experimenting with unmanned aerial vehicles to collect data, saving humans from the laborious task. And so it goes in the insurance industry, where Travelers is testing drones to take live video and photos of property damage.

The idea is provide human safety and efficiency, says Patrick Gee, Travelers senior vice president of claim. Currently, Travelers and other property insurers train claims professionals to scale roofs. Climbing ladders to reach multi-story roofs is hazardous by any measure, but particularly where sharp inclines of say, 30 degrees or more are involved. A drone can survey roof damage in real-time and relay that to claims agents' phones, tablets or pretty much any screen with an Internet connection.

CIO.com got demonstration of the drones in action (and more) at Travelers' Claims University, a 200,000-square foot-plus facility where 7,000 claims professionals go each year to learn how the data-driven claim analysis business works. Nate Stanton (shown here), a Travelers claim product manager, presides over this drone fleet at the Windsor, Conn. facility.

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Have drones will Travelers

Currently, Travelers pays third-party specialists to assess property damage on roofs with steep slopes. But the company says drones are a much safer, more efficient and cost-effective approach. However, drone use is severely hampered by key FAA restrictions. Drones must be manned by a pilot, with a spotter positioned opposite the pilot to watch the drone at all times. Also, the FAA prohibits drones from flying within 500 feet of people or property. But Gee says that he expects this to change soon, as the insurance and other industries are lobbying the FAA and Capitol Hill to use drone rules for commercial use. 

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Up, up and away

Stanton grabs the control and the drone takes off, hovering over the dummy office building Travelers built to teach claims workers what to look for as they assess properties. Several Travelers claims agents have already been trained on how to pilot the mini aircraft.

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Eagle eye

Highlighted via the red arrow in the upper-right, the drone hovers over the building. Its camera feeds the live footage of the roof to the screen below.

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Roll drone video

A close-up of the drone’s footage. Note Stanton piloting the drone in the foreground. Claims agents can access the drone footage via any connected device.

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Gutter buster

This 1,200 square-foot ranch house features a busted gutter, broken shingles and other damage for claims professionals to assess. Note the protective rails designed to protect employees setting foot on the roofs during training.

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Claim U

Patrick Gee works with Ben Johns, director of operations for Travelers Claim University, who manages the facility, which includes dozens of cars, SUVs and heavy machinery Travelers repossessed as part of claims payouts. Travelers also built props that educators use to school prospective and even experienced employees.

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Don’t start this engine

Why would an insurer need to pull this Toyota Prius engine pulled out of its chassis? It allows claims professionals to poke, prod and inspect its guts. “We opened it up so that claims professionals can see the internal workings of a hybrid engine to better assess claims,” says Johns.

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Car on a spit

Johns shows off the Travelers rotisserie car, which rotates 360 degrees. The multi-colored paint highlights the car’s different weld spots. But paint is not just paint. While simple black coating costs $90 a quart, paints with more pigment, such as deep reds and oranges, cost as much as $200 a quart, says Gee.

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Heavy metal

Travelers also has plenty of heavy equipment in its specialty lab, including a vandalized scavenger and a bulldozer that was submerged under water.

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Moonshot

Travelers even insures space shuttle flights. Take a peek at this Travelers accident policy for the Apollo 11 moon landing. 

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