Insurers Increase Investments in Drones, Robots

Insurance companies are increasing their investment in robotic systems aimed at helping claims adjusters evaluate storm-damaged properties with greater safety and less cost.

Travelers Cos., United Services Automobile Association and Farmers Insurance Group were among the major property and casualty companies to deploy aerial drones this summer to inspect property damage in the wake of Hurricane Ida.

And Farmers said last month that it would bring inspections back to ground level with plans to deploy a robotic dog to properties damaged by hurricanes, earthquakes and other catastrophic events.

International Data Corp. expects the insurance industry to spend about $602 million world-wide on robotics systems, including drones, in 2021, with spending growing to $1.7 billion in 2025.

“All these technologies are about augmenting the capacities of the so-called knowledge workers,” said Patrick Van Brussel, research director at the technology research company.

Drones and robots make insurance more effective, more efficient and safer, he said. Drones, for example, can quickly inspect a damaged roof and transmit images back to a claims system without sending an adjuster into a building that might be compromised.

Insurers will continue to embrace drones, robots and other technologies as companies find new uses for them, Mr. Van Brussel said.

Travelers, which has a fleet of more than 700 drones, last month deployed some 200 to inspect customers’ properties in the wake of Hurricane Ida, which made landfall in Louisiana and then traveled north through the U.S. The company said it plans to increase the use of drones for claims inspection.

“Drone use helps improve the safety for our field claim professionals and our field risk control professionals,” said Jim Wucherpfennig, vice president of property claim at Travelers. “The technology allows us to write damage estimates more quickly for our customers, pay them more quickly, so that they can begin the repairs to their property and get back on their feet.”

Farmers said drones also helped it assess the damage done to customers’ homes hit by Hurricane Ida.

Samantha Santiago, head of claims strategy and automation at Farmers.

Photo: Farmers Insurance Group

“We’ve learned in the 100 years that we’ve been in business that investing in technologies that help make the claims handling process faster and more efficient leads to higher customer satisfaction,” said Samantha Santiago, head of claims strategy and automation at Farmers.

The company’s latest investment is Spot, a 70-pound, four-legged robot from Boston Dynamics Inc. that can be used to access unoccupied, structurally compromised houses and buildings to assess damage. Farmers will be the first insurance carrier to deploy the mobile robot.

“Spot gives us the ability on the ground to see what’s ahead of us. Things that may be difficult for an adjuster to see,” said Ms. Santiago.

The Farmers robot is equipped with a pan-tilt-zoom camera that will allow for 360-degree image capture and a thermal camera that will detect hot spots. Images captured by the robot will be transmitted to Farmers’ claims systems, where human adjusters and image-analysis systems will help determine the extent of the property damage.

Spot is expected to be deployed later this year.

A Farmers adjuster will be deployed along with Spot and will direct the robot’s movement.

While robots are taking on more jobs traditionally done by people, neither technology analysts nor insurance experts see robots replacing adjusters anytime soon.

The future of work involves people and robots working side-by-side, often creating a division of labor that lets robots do things that are repetitive, dangerous, or require analytics and humans using judgment, creativity, and people skills, said J.P. Gownder, a vice president and principal analyst at advisory firm Forrester Research Inc.

He also noted that today’s insurance robots and drones are almost entirely operated by humans.

“Robots are imperfect, they require lots of oversight, and they can’t provide humanistic customer service,” Mr. Gownder said.

Write to John McCormick at

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