How Drones Are Involved in City Life and the Specifics of Data Annotation

Jun 13, 2023

Drones are far more a part of urban life than most people. Drones are not just part of some planned futuristic smart city, and they are already used in the daily life of municipalities. They are not just used by enthusiasts or commercially by professional photographers. Cities make use of drones for a few different purposes. Knowing what municipalities use drones for can help with data annotation projects. It also helps to know what cities are doing with drones to research and develop new drones and applications.


One of the most obvious uses that you may think of is in law enforcement for things like surveillance. Of course, that is one important purpose for cities to use drones. However, there are more literally constructive tasks that cities use drones for. Drones are actually used in construction and inspections—especially the construction and inspections of tunnels, sewers, storm drains and aqueducts.

For example, New York has miles of underground aqueducts. The Catskill Aqueduct runs from the Ashokan Reservoir to the Hillview Reservoir in Yonkers. This aqueduct provides 40 percent of the freshwater for NYC daily. Tunnels and aqueducts carry almost all the water the people of NYC use. The water from the Catskills is one of the reasons why NYC is said to have such good water. It is also too dangerous to send human beings into pretty old tunnels. Of course, the tunnels need to be inspected and, at times, repaired for maintenance.

Because it is too dangerous to send humans into the old tunnels underground, cut off from GPS signals drone operators are used. They look for any cracks or damage in the tunnels and any obstructions. Incidentally, drone operators need a license from the FAA to work. Their primary skills and training are the drones they use, generally not in construction or inspection.

This means there is plenty of room to improve the process with AI. The specific data annotation needed would mostly be videos of inside tunnels that could train computer vision to look for damage. It would probably be very helpful if it worked with thermal imaging and in low light for any problems to tag and hopefully fix more quickly.

NYC also has almost an entire additional underground city of tunnels. Most of them are cut off from humans safely exploring them. For example, the historic abandoned subway stations and service tunnels are closed to everyone. That includes even city employees. These are now safely explored and inspected by drones instead. In addition, many of the city's electrical power grid is underground, and parts of it still in use are in these inaccessible underground spaces.

Far above the subterranean world of municipal tunnels, drones are helpful for many other kinds of inspections, for example, inspecting tall buildings outside. They are also sometimes used to check dangerous power lines instead of having a lineman climb up. In addition, aerial photography has many commercial applications for visual inspections that cities need.

Drones are also useful for fighting fires and disaster relief. According to the National League of Cities in the USA, drones are even good for rural ambulances in remote places. Another major use for drones is live traffic analysis and surveying traffic accidents.

The Municipal Applications of Drones Today

  • Law enforcement, especially surveillance
  • Exploring, inspecting, maintaining and constructing tunnels
  • Firefighting and disaster relief
  • Inspecting the exterior of tall buildings
  • Power line inspection
  • Traffic analysis and surveying traffic accidents
Video annotation | Keymakr

The Future of Data Annotation for Municipal Drones and Smart Cities

For some time now, humanity has a vision of the cities of the future, smart cities. Dense, urban places are filled with high technology that integrates information and communication technologies. (ICT) With everything connected to an internet of things (IoT) and lots of sensors providing information. All so that the city may be governed and operate more efficiently.

One of the challenges of bringing this glorious vision to reality is that the future is built from the past. Old cities must build on old infrastructure, and in countries like the USA, this old infrastructure is not even well maintained. That means that often there are challenges where drones are currently needed and deployed underground. Radio signals can't always even reach the drones. However, a wealth of drones data collection could be tapped into. The licensed drone operators involved are usually specialized in that, not in construction or anything.

There is plenty of room, even a market gap waiting to be filled by startups there, and they will need specialized data annotation for startups. That way, new AI and drones for this kind of work can be developed and brought to market for cities like NYC. You might like to know that New York is regularly looking to hire licensed drone operators, and they pay around six figures a year for that kind of work too.

Fire fighting and disaster relief is also an area where cities could make more use of drones to save lives. Fires and disasters make for chaotic, sometimes disturbing scenes. That requires different kinds of data annotation to support automated disaster relief efforts. It is, however, important work that should be done.

Aerial traffic analysis and surveying traffic accidents also provide a wealth of information. That can be used for a variety of applications, including data annotation for autonomous vehicles.

Like the futuristic gleaming smart cities, you may notice that the application of drones in city life now provides all manner of data. That data is all interconnected and has many different useful applications. Drones for different municipal uses also have additional specific data annotation needs.

While it is very specific, that data and data annotation usually has multiple useful applications to support the development of new in-demand products and services.

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Inna Nomerovska

Inna Nomerovska is the VP of Marketing and Brand Strategy at Keymakr | Keylabs. She is a tireless technology enthusiast with 15 years of experience in international marketing and startup background.

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