The skies above the flooded city are packed with unmanned vehicles performing a range of tasks. AT&T is using drones to inspect its cellular towers for damage, while insurance companies like Allstate and Farmers are rolling out their own fleets to follow up on claims—as of Wednesday, Farmers already had 14,000 claims relating to Hurricane Harvey, according to the San Antonio Express.
This is likely the first disaster in which many companies are deploying drones in large numbers, but it fits with a growing trend in the insurance business. Instead of sending human adjusters to inspect every claim that customers make, more and more firms are sending drones. Improvements in image recognition mean that software is playing a bigger role in assessing how much damage a car sustained in an accident, say, or how much the roof of a house needs to be repaired after a storm.
Rescue operations are benefitting, too. According to Axios, the company DroneDeploy is sending out vehicles to produce detailed 3-D maps that can help navigate the watery chaos. The company claims it can speed up rescue operations by providing imagery that allows rescuers to see around buildings and beneath tree cover.