Drone Over Memorial Regional Hospital

July 04, 2017


Part of Thomas Gibson’s job at Memorial Regional Hospital is keeping a close eye on the construction of the facility’s new seven-floor parking garage.

That includes taking a peek from the clouds.

The hospital’s Director of Facilities is currently employing a new drone that has documented nearly every step of the garage’s ascent.

For Thomas, the drone has also rekindled a passion for visual arts that first began during his days as a police officer taking crime scene photos.

“I used to have a deep interest in photography. It’s been renewed with the drone. It’s actually a new type of photography,” Thomas says. “You can learn how to control the drone to improve your video shots. There are different methods of flying the drone to get the best angles and tricks to improve video quality or visibility quality. I’m learning with each flight to take better pictures.”

Thomas’s department manages all buildings and infrastructure for Memorial Regional Hospital and conducts preventive maintenance as well. Less than a year ago, the administration suggested that Facilities Management purchase a drone to survey the ever-growing campus. With 1 million square feet of hospital and 3 million square feet of garages and property, plus different levels of ongoing construction, a drone is far more practical and adaptable than either a hand-held camera or the human eye to document Memorial’s progress.

“The drone has been a good tool for us to look at parts of the campus that otherwise would be more difficult to access,” Thomas says. “The drone takes a high-quality image, whether though video or photography.”

To date, the drone has been used to observe project completion. It has taken aerial photos of departmental group gatherings and real-time footage of the traffic flow coming onto campus. Most recently,

Thomas’s staff, along with Construction Services, has used the drone to document the building of the seven-floor garage, expected to be completed later this year.

“For the garage construction, many people don’t even know the drone is there. The minute you stop operating it, it stays hovering where you left it. The wind doesn’t interfere with its positioning,” says Thomas, a Memorial employee since October 2015.

With technological capabilities greater than that of the Saturn 5 rocket, the drone has myriad artificial intelligence functions. Powered by satellites, like a GPS in a car, it has sensors to avoid and remember obstacles. It can track objects, fly more than four miles away, relay sound and reach speeds up to 45 miles per hour.

The machine’s complexity took some getting used to. Thomas says he was nervous about losing sight of it at first, but with each flight he’s become more and more comfortable trusting technology to do its job.

Oddly enough, drones and other robotics are now “natural” additions to organizations in both the public and private sector. This is a brave new world to explore, and Thomas is excited to take on the adventure.

“I hope to continue to learn and find additional uses for the drone. I don’t see that technology decreasing,” he says. “We’re already using robots in the clinical side of healthcare. We’re using more and more technology on the facilities management side as well, relying more on technology and making more decisions based on data.”


Drone Man

Thomas Gibson, director of facilities at Memorial Regional Hospital, has been using a drone to monitor the construction of the hospital's new parking garage.