iWYZE is the first insurer to use drone inspection for underwriting and claims. It expects its competitors to follow suit. Picture: Supplied

Old Mutual’s iWYZE will soon get a bird’s eye view of assessments.

By tapping into artificial intelligence and robotics, the country’s oldest short-term insurer will be able to fast-track the claims process through the innovative use of drones, drone-mapping technology and photogrammetry (extracting three-dimensional measurements from two-dimensional data).

Drones are not only recreational toys: they’re diverse, multipurpose tools for data collection, intelligent, customisable and without on-board pilots.

They’re useful for disaster relief, film production, deliveries, wildlife management, oil and gas exploration, agriculture, construction inspections, security and infrastructure.

For insurance purposes, they might sound gimmicky, but they’re far from it because their use helps drive efficiency, manage risk, reduce losses and increase savings, as well as appeal to a more switched-on, time-poor client base.

Insurers are increasingly relying on innovative technology.

This allows insurers to aggregate quotes, receive claims, track clients’ activities, reward risk-minimising behaviour, and monitor driving habits.

And it enables insurers to tailor products to specific risk groups and price them more competitively.

iWYZE is the first insurer to use drone inspection for underwriting and claims.

In a statement, the company said it had recently passed the operational audit and demonstration flights required by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (Sacaa) and that it’s in the final certification phase of obtaining its remotely-piloted aircraft systems operator licence.

The tech is particularly useful for property inspections, which may be hazardous for humans to perform at heights - and give insurers a bird’s eye view of crash scenes, to inspect and photograph, said Old Mutual Insurance expert, Christelle Colman. Their use will also allow crashes to be cleared off the road sooner.

“A simple example is that, for rooftop assessments where assessors have had to climb on roofs, drones will mitigate injuries and additional damages,” Colman said. “The drone footage will be emailed and fast-track claims processes to benefit customers.”

For insurers, the tech has numerous applications.

It eases surveying of building, houses and property; expedites water, fire and hail damage assessments; and enables more accurate agricultural assessments on water, fire and hail damage to crops.

Colman said aerial photography of an accident scene “could prove vital in reconstructing the scene so that measurements can be done easier and incorporated into crash simulation programmes”.

The benefits for customers are numerous. iWYZE customers will be able to have the assessments done in their absence, so they don’t need to be present. All they have to do is to give permission for the drone assessment, she said, adding that not only will time be saved, but that the claims process itself will be faster and more accurate. Commercial drone use is revolutionary for the South African insurance industry, Colman said.

“The application of drone technology in our business is an empowering game-changer - it will significantly improve our risk assessments, underwriting and quantification of assets through improved data collection, field assessments, high-quality photos, videos and analysis,” she said, adding that crash scene reconstruction software is able to import aerial crash scene photography and vehicle crush damage, which will enhance the overall final product and accuracy.

“Drone operations will further reduce our operational, safety and fraud risks; fast-track and improve claims adjudication and processing; cut operational costs through enhanced efficiency and ultimately elevate our customer experience. The technological advances that drone solutions offer for agricultural catastrophe and storm damage assessments are extensive.”

The planning and application process has taken two years. Colman said it’s been a rigorous process to train staff to fill the required roles, which include an accountable manager, remotely piloted aircraft systems pilot, safety officer, security officer and quality manager.

“The writing of a fit-for-purpose operations manual is an extremely involved and lengthy process. Admin, paperwork, equipment and qualifications had to be in order before we could approach the (Sacaa).”

iWYZE will be one of only 46 registered remotely piloted aircraft systems operators in the country.

“The toughest part was to transition non-aviation employees to an aviation mindset. To write a fit-for-purpose operation manual which adheres to all safety and security measures to ensure safe operations, we had to become pilots, versed in the Civil Aviation Act, regulations and technical standards; and master and understand aeronautical radio equipment and charts,” said Colman.

And, there’s an opportunity for employment too, as iWYZE will need to employ more licenced drone pilots, technicians and safety and security managers in their major regions.

“Old Mutual iWYZE is the first insurer to actively navigate this area,” she said. “We expect that our competitors may see opportunities and follow suit.”

* Georgina Crouth is a consumer watchdog with serious bite. Write to her at [email protected], tweet her @georginacrouth and follow her on Facebook.

** Receive IOL's top stories via Whatsapp by sending your name to 0745573535