Professional services and accountancy firm PwC UK has undertaken its first stock count audit using drone photography.

In a global first for the company, the drone captured over 300 images of a coal reserve at one of the UK’s last remaining coal-fired power stations.

According to PwC, the audit was done inside 30 minutes and would have taken four hours to do manually.

Elaine Whyte, UK drones leader at PwC, said drone technology could be used in sectors with hard to reach assets like mining, agriculture and forestry.

"Drones have allowed us to trial a more efficient service which has the potential to save both money and time while allowing us to deliver greater insight too," she added.

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The images from the drone were used to create a 'digital twin' of the 200-hectare coal pile in order to measure its volume. The value of the coal was then calculated to within 99 per cent accuracy.

The preparation for the drone's flight, which was manufactured and operated by UK drone company QuestUAV, requires access to a small area of the coal pile and therefore poses less of a health and safety risk, particularly when parts of the coal pile are unstable. 

While on site a multi-rotor drone was also used to take photos of the wider site, allowing site owner RWE to inspect the condition of assets that are at height and otherwise difficult to access.

Hemione Hudson, head of assurance at PwC, said: "Drones are just one of a number of technologies that could improve audit quality in different ways across different sectors.

"But maximising the benefits of emerging technologies is reliant on having the right people with the skills to interpret the resulting data.

"We are constantly investing in attracting the best people into our business and training them in new technologies to ensure our audit quality continues to improve."