Remote-controlled drones are set to carry out inspections of key buildings across the Capital in a bid to make structural checks cheaper.
A “hexacopter” equipped with high-res camera has already been trialled in the Capital, with moves under way towards a city-wide roll out.
The pilot, which took place at a carefully concealed location, means the council is poised to become one of the first local authorities in Scotland to use the technology for mandatory inspections of schools, leisure centres and other public properties.
Deploying drones during statutory repair examinations to decide whether essential work is needed on private homes has not been ruled out.
Council insiders said the devices offer “significant” cost advantages over traditional surveying methods since they slash the need to use expensive cranes, scaffolding and other platforms. It is understood unmanned vehicles would be used in the early stages of an inspection to obtain photographic evidence of wear and tear.
Technicians at drone operator Sky View Video were drafted in to carry out the pilot and have praised the council’s willingness to test the equipment.
But the experiment has been slammed by critics, who said the human eye was essential to ensuring inspections are robust.
The trial comes as the council works to get Edinburgh’s statutory repairs service back on its feet in the wake of a scandal which saw the system suspended amid allegations of fraud and staff bribery.
Gordon Murdie, a former chairman of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors East Area, who represents more than 200 clients affected by the statutory repairs controversy, said: “If the council thinks that a radio-controlled boy-toy helicopter up in the sky is in any way a replacement for a skilled surveyor then it perhaps ought to think again. There’s no substitute for the skill of an architectural surveyor using the naked eye, and poking and prodding, to detect defects.”
Although smaller than its military-grade counterparts, the £8000 craft deployed in Edinburgh – which weighs just under 7kg and has a diameter of around one metre – is resilient and capable of functioning even if one of its mini-rotors breaks down.
Craig Jump, owner-operator at Sky View Video, said: “I would have thought the vast majority of council buildings could be surveyed with this type of technology in some way. I think it’s good that the council are looking at it. Edinburgh seems to be a wee bit more forward-thinking at the moment.”
Council leaders said the pilot had been driven by the need to address budget pressures.
A spokesman said: “Trialling new technology solutions is one way we might be able to identify new and creative ways of delivering our services.”