Posts tagged "Drone Inspections"

Sharper Shape Inc. has announced this week that their new Automatic Detail Inspection (ADI) service has successfully completed field trials and is now available for immediate commercial use by electric utilities.  The ADI service is available as a complete end-to-end inspection package, or companies can use their own aircraft and personnel, utilizing Sharper Shape’s ADI “Drone Software as A Service™” technologies to maximize the efficiency of in-house unmanned aerial operations. The company expects their Automatic Detailed Inspection service to be rapidly adopted by major US as well as international utilities due to system’s ability to largely automate the entire process ranging from using drones for close inspection of critical infrastructure components up to defect recognition.

Sharper Shape’s Automatic Detailed Inspection service takes full advantage of the outstanding capabilities of the current generation of small commercial unmanned aircraft. To begin the process, Sharper Shape’s ADI Flight Planner software automatically creates accurate 3D models of powerlines using LiDAR data of the system. The ADI Flight Planner software uses this geospatial data to create optimized routes for automatically inspecting utility assets. High performance DJI commercial drones autonomously follow these automatically created flight paths to capture images of insulators, wire connections and other critical components at close range and from multiple angles. Finally, these images are uploaded under software control to the Sharper Shape cloud-based Inspector application. This purpose-built application provides an ideal platform for utility personnel to review field data, and post-flight analysis is further accelerated with several artificial intelligence tools.

“Our new ADI service really minimizes the effort required to capture all the data needed to completely analyze the health of a utility system and to target the problem areas,” says Paul Frey, Sharper Shape’s VP of sales. “UAS field crews can get a lot more done each day, with much more predictable and repeatable results.”

According to Ilkka Hiidenheimo, Sharper Shape’s CEO: “With our new ADI service, not only are we automating the drone field operations, but we are also providing a complete post-flight software environment for performing intelligent computer-assisted analysis of the massive amount of data captured during each flight.”

Hiidenheimo provided insight into the future: “After the uplift of the beyond visual line of sight drone based flying regulation in the US we will be able to maximize the potential of the service, the same way we already do in Finland.”

Advantages of ADI vs. traditional inspections done by helicopters or by foot patrol

  • Increased safety by keeping the pilots and crew on the ground
  • In comparison to helicopter data acquisition, higher quality data and data from below the assets
  • A much lower price point
  • More environmentally friendly

Advantages of ADI vs. traditional manually flown drone utility inspections include:

  • Inspection time is reduced from 10-20 minutes per structure for manual flight control to 1-2 minutes using ADI.
  • ADI delivers more repeatable and higher quality inspection results
  • Far less stress is put on ADI field crews, resulting in reduced mental & physical fatigue
  • ADI minimizes risk – even less skilled pilots can safely produce top quality inspection work
  • All ADI data is automatically uploaded to the Sharper Inspector software platform, which provides an optimized environment for manual examination of inspection data, as well as providing an environment for automating certain inspection tasks through intelligent software plug-ins

Even though Sharper Shape’s ADI service is initially being targeted for use in the electric transmission and distribution markets, the company is working on introducing the applications into a much wider range of industrial inspection applications. Says Sharper Shape’s Hiidenheimo: “There really is no reason our automatic flight operations and inspection software can’t be equally effective when working on cell phone towers, wind turbines, or many other critical industrial assets.”

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About Sharper Shape
Sharper Shape is the global leader in drone-based automated inspection services.  The company has US offices in North Dakota and Maryland, as well as an international research and development facility near Helsinki Finland. The company’s full stack of unmanned aircraft, sensor systems, and software services have been developed specifically to meet the needs of the electric transmission and distribution industry. Sharper Shape’s Consolidated Linear Inspection service and newly introduced Automatic Detailed Inspection service deliver unrivaled inspection speed and cost effectiveness for electric utility customers.

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In many regions of Norway, access to powerlines is difficult, so helicopters are often deployed to inspect the grid. But power utilities are increasingly becoming aware of the potential of drone-based inspections as a cost-effective and powerful method of obtaining data about the condition of the grid – especially when the software to store, share and analyse the images already exists. Skånevik Ølen Kraftlag is one of the first power suppliers to test the concept in Norway along with drone operators Funtek – and the results are looking good!

Funtek is a Norwegian drone operating company, offering drone-based inspections of powerlines, wind turbines and other critical infrastructure. To store and analyse the vast amounts of data generated by drone inspections, Funtek are using software developed by Scopito, a Danish specialist IT developer focusing on making infrastructure inspections much more effective in terms of time and cost.

Torstein Funderud, co-owner and founder of Funtek, explains: “We have been building and flying drones for nearly a decade, and with the fast-evolving technology development in this segment it became clear for us that this equipment can be applied to industrial inspections. We started out doing small test inspections and developing procedures and equipment specifically for this, and after some time we needed more specific input from the potential client base to further develop the concept. So I contacted our local power utility Skånevik Ølen Kraftlag and proposed the idea of doing test runs on their power lines, and they accepted.

We chose two lines with varied topography, to test the limitations of both the inspection procedures and the actual limitations of the equipment. And we decided to use Scopito’s software to store and tag all the many images that come from a single inspection run.”

Results indicate cheaper, more efficient power line inspections

Skånevik Ølen Kraftlag’s grid manager Jan Erik Fedje is happy with the results from the test runs:

“We have carried out two test runs using drones to inspect power lines running along the fjords and in the mountains; so, in challenging topographies. Although we have not yet analysed the data in great detail, we think that drone inspections and the software solution connected to them are really promising as an alternative to helicopter inspections – we also expect to find that using drones is much cheaper and more flexible than conventional inspection runs.”

Skånevik Ølen Kraftlag has also called upon Funtek to carry out inspections to detect and identify specific faults on the grid, when helicopters could not take off due to high winds. “Funtek responded and found the fault very quickly with their drone services, so we will definitely turn to this solution again in the future,” says Jan Erik Fedje.

Full software integration with Powel

Funtek is working closely with their own software developers and suppliers Powel and Scopito to make sure inspection data in Scopito integrates well with the customers’ existing Powel platform. Powel’s solutions are currently being used by both Danish and Norwegian utility companies to manage powerlines and powerline infrastructure.

“Scopito’s software is just perfect for this type for work,” Torstein Funderud says. “Before I found it, I had ideas of developing a system like it for our own use – but Scopito just does the job brilliantly. What’s more, when we can cross-reference our data with the information in Powel’s power grid management system and present and analyse it in Scopito, you have a complete solution.”

“In Powel’s power grid management system the clients can easily export GPS and name information for the lines they want to do inspection on. We merge this information with the captured inspection data so that when the customer gets the result of the inspection there is a direct correlation to their own maintenance system. This means that if the customers want inspection data for a mast in their system, they can simply type in their own mast “name” or identifier in Scopito and the images for that specific mast will appear.

We also use the data from Powel’s power grid management system to plan our drone inspections, and ensure that when an inspection job is done we do actually have data from all of the masts on that line – and no data is missing. This adds confidence since we can actually verify that the inspection that is carried out is complete.

In practical terms, this means that the utility company can save enormous amounts of money normally spent on helicopter-based inspections, and downtime and costly repairs can be foreseen – or entirely avoided – with extreme precision.

Exciting possibilities when integrating Scopito with Powel software

For utility companies already using the many different software solutions developed by Powel, the possibility of integrating Scopito imaging with Powel opens up a range of new possibilities.

Kjetil Storset is Executive Vice President at Powel AS and is in charge of Powel’s development of smart infrastructure solutions. He sees great potential for power companies and infrastructure owners in combining Scopito’s imaging software with Powel’s management solutions:

“When operators can integrate the data in Powel’s software with the image management in Scopito, the possibilities really open up. In our software, utility companies can have specific data on every single mast in the power grid, every single insulator and every other piece of equipment in the critical infrastructure. The Scopito software can share and visualize every single image taken, so that we have full knowledge of the exact position, altitude, time etc. of each image. Pair this with the data stored in our systems, and the utility company can now pinpoint the condition of every single mast and find the information in a matter of minutes.”

For further information, please contact:

Torstein Funderud, Funtek AS
Telephone: +47 95 05 86 92
Email: torstein@funtek.no
www: funtek.no
Ken Falk, CEO

Scopito ApS
Agro Food Park 13, DK-8200 Aarhus N, Denmark
Telephone: +45 71 99 29 03
Email: kif@scopito.com
www: scopito.com

We just released a new research report titled “Five Valuable Business Lessons About Drones in Asset and Infrastructure Inspection” This is the fourth in a series of white papers intended to share lessons learned in specific industries and how to maximize the value drones can deliver in those industries. This year, we are building on the analysis we did for the 2016 “Truth About” papers by incorporating real-world experience gained from businesses and drone pilots operating under the Federal Aviation Administration’s Small Unmanned Aircraft Regulations (aka FAA Part 107).

In the report, which co-authored by Chris Korody, we demonstrate what drone operators servicing a wide variety of industries have learned about what works and what doesn’t. We explore both the benefits and limitations of drone inspection projects and offer practical advice to would-be adopters. We answer questions like: What have companies learned about creating their own internal drone operation groups? And where do we go or what can we expect from here?

Here is an excerpt:

“While both media and investors have primarily focused on opportunities for using drones in the construction and agriculture industries, inspection applications have fostered innovation together with significant returns on investment. The reasons begin with the “four Ds”—a term coined by GE Ventures to describe the unique ability of drones to meet the needs of their field services customers. The four D’s describe any activity that’s tailor-made to be performed by a drone, and are:

  • Dull
  • Dirty
  • Dangerous
  • Distant

In a 2014 interview, Sue Siegel, the CEO of GE Ventures, added a fifth “D”—for data—saying simply, “Imagine that if you’re doing it faster, you might be able to do it more often. And more data typically will give you better data.”

The four Ds+1 combination is one of the most compelling arguments for drone adoption in companies where uptime is money, crews are expensive, and structures and facilities are often expected to last 50 to 100 years.

The other compelling argument is cost reduction. McKinsey Consulting’s recent white paper “Preserving the downturn’s upside highlights how the oil and gas industry reduced costs by 29% in response to falling oil prices. They show that 40% to 50% of the savings came from eliminating the demand for a variety of services, including manned aviation support. The innovators figured out how to put drones to work.”

The report goes on to discuss how drones and the data from drones offer huge advantages in the oil & gas, telecommunications, and utility industries. It also provides insights from Dexter Lewis, PE, senior engineer in the research and development group at Southern Company (NYSE: SO) which brings electricity and gas to 9 million customers.

You can get the free report here.

If you have questions about what’s in the report or would like to comment on it after reading it, write me at colin@droneanalyst.com.

Image credit: Shutterstock

A manufacturer of refinery infrastructure was about to finish the assembly of a radiant box when a quality control concern arose around some components in the project. The need for visual inspection at height in a complex environment, where scaffolding would only make the situation worse, led the customer to entertain the value and benefits of the indoor inspection drone Elios through the services offered by Industrial SkyWorks.

A large manufacturer of refineries, processing equipment and technologies active in the oil and gas industry was about to finish a major phase of the construction of a new radiant box facility used in the process of refining hydrogen under very high temperature (1300 to 2000°F) and pressure (45 to 360 psi).

Near the end of the assembly process of the 144 40’ high vertical pipes composing the radiant box, a thumbnail size notch was noticed in one of the pipes just before it was installed. This caused the owner of the refinery some concern as to the condition of the other pipes that were already assembled in the unit. The refinery customer insisted that each of the pipes be inspected thoroughly before they would sign off on the delivery of this stage of the construction and move into the final stages of testing and firing up the radiant box.

The refinery manufacturer was left with some difficult choices. He would have to erect scaffoldings inside the radiant box in the small walkways in between the 3 rows of pipes with only a manhole to bring in all the material. But, the major concern had to do with the risk inherent to the scaffolding operation. Made up of a very particular heat-resistant alloy containing 30% of chrome, the pipes of the radiant box have the downside of needing a very careful treatment. A simple contact with another alloy would risk damaging the pipes. Therefore, all the scaffolding would need to be powder-coated before being used. The cost of the operation, safety risk, time delay and potential risk of further damaging the pipes with the scaffolding was definitely a huge concern.

That’s when the refinery manufacturer called on Industrial SkyWorks to proceed with the inspection of the pipes. Their training and certification to work in refineries and confined spaces and their indoor drone inspection service offering using Flyability Elios appeared to the refinery manufacture as a suitable alternative.

SOLUTION AND PROCESS

The complexity of the location, the large number of pipes, and the fact that they could easily be mixed up enforced a very meticulous work approach.

The first thing Industrial SkyWorks did was to identify each pipe. They were marked front and rear. It was decided that 4 flights were needed per pipe to ensure complete coverage. Industrial SkyWorks’ two-man crew set up a charging station just outside the building and using the onboard lights of the Elios, flew to the top of each pipe and descended slowly recording video. The work was completed and the hi-resolution video records of each pipe presented to the client in a matter of days where it would have normally required weeks if proceeding with traditional methods.

CONCLUSION

The Elios drone happened to be a perfect tool for the job. It had been flying continuously for nearly 5 days in a dry and dusty environment imaging both sides of each pipe. The refinery manufacturer was obviously nervous at first as this was a big new gamble for them. However, once they saw the clarity of the raw video footage at the end of the first day, they were incredibly pleased and could not wait to get the footage over to their refinery client to start validating the condition of the asset. The job was a great success, done safely and efficiently, with the desired outcome for the refinery manufacturer and their client. Industrial SkyWorks has since been contacted by the customer to look at inspecting other components they manufacture as well as from the refinery customer themselves for some inspection projects.

The overall savings arising from the use of a drone instead of traditional methods for this inspection is estimated to be 75% in terms of cost and 85% in terms of time. Work at height and associated safety procedures were avoided.

http://www.flyability.com

Mobilicom Ltd. announces a new camera and communication partnership that offers a field-proven, high-end solution for low-latency video plus control and telemetry for commercial UAVs. This highly secured HD video communication solution enables both day and night video broadcast and multicast and will close the development gap for new entrants into the commercial drone market.

Mobilicom and NextVision have teamed up to offer a field-proven integrated high-end solution of encrypted bi-directional communication and a dual-channel EO/IR stabilized camera for commercial drone manufacturers.

Together, they have demonstrated the interoperability of the SkyHopper PRO UAV data link with NextVision’s micro-stabilized cameras.

Oren Elkayam, CEO of Mobilicom Group stated, “The partnership between SkyHopper and NextVision is excellent for customers who are looking for high-end solutions that can fly on small UAVs for security & surveillance, infrastructure inspection, and public safety applications. Proven in the field, this highly secured HD video communication solution enables both day and night video broadcast and multicast, and will close the development gap for new entrants into the commercial drone market.”

As commercial UAV applications such as security & surveillance, infrastructure inspection, mapping and more are shaping this market, there is high demand for high-quality and lightweight communication and video payload solutions.

The interoperability between SkyHopper and NextVision involves end-to-end HD day and night video transmissions alongside camera turret control and feedback over a highly secured IP connection. This solution demonstrates an exceptional video quality and low latency video, telemetry and control. This low latency is crucial for the successful use of camera turrets with a narrow field-of-view.

“This field-proven solution addresses the immediate needs of both veteran and new market players,” commented Michael Grosman, CEO of NextVision Stabilized Systems. “The combination of NextVision’s extremely light weight dual-channel EO/IR stabilized camera turrets with the SkyHopper PRO assures long endurance and exceptional performance usually available on much heavier systems.”

NextVision is the market leader in the field of micro-stabilized gimballed cameras. The Company offers the widest range of field-proven stabilized cameras and accessories for commercial, industrial and security applications. The cameras can be mounted on ground, aerial and maritime platforms, and are the preferred choice where a key requirement is low SWaP2 (Size, Weight, Power and Price) without compromising performance.

The SkyHopper PRO data-link caters specifically to the commercial and industrial drone and robotics market. In leveraging proven technological capabilities and expertise, SkyHopper PRO enables real-time Full HD video, long-range LOS, superior N-LOS, urban and relay operation, broadcasting and multicasting, to unlimited viewers and control by multiple controllers.

SkyHopper PRO is tailored to UAV solutions on the cutting edge, such as Autonomous UAVs, fleet management, swarm operations and cloud-based UAV operations. Today, drone manufacturers oftentimes use separate solutions for control, telemetry and payload, thereby increasing costs and weight. SkyHopper PRO gives drone manufacturers the peace of mind of packaging all drone communication into a single RF channel in a lightweight solution and offers its experienced support team to hit the ground running.

For more information about this integrated solution, visit SkyHopper PRO at http://www.skyhopper.biz, or contact us at info@skyhopper.biz or via phone at +1 747 282 2133

scopitoscopito

Everywhere you look, people are making predictions about how drones are going to be put to use in commercial applications, from farming to fishing to utilities inspections. But when it comes time to get the rubber on the road, it’s sometimes hard to know just how to get the job done, or more precisely, how to understand the data the drones are so good at collecting.

I recently came across a company that is all about that – data management software for drone inspections: Scopito. Founder and CEO, Ken Falk agreed to tell us more about the work he’s doing to bring about a better world through drones.

What is Scopito? Who is it for?

Scopito is a platform that makes it easy to store, analyze and share large amounts of inspection data – especially created for drone operators that want to deliver data to their customers in a professional manner.  It can also be utilized by utility companies that have the need for an efficient way to handle data on their large amounts of infrastructure.

What problem in the drone industry are you a solution for? What advantages do you offer compared to other competitors?

Drones are effective at getting to places that are otherwise hard to access, and at gathering high quality data. The challenge is that the amounts of data to be handled are so big – and this is the problem that we are a solution for.

Our competitors are very focused on 3D models and mapping solutions, where we are focused on visual 2D inspections.

How does Scopito work?

In short, you take a huge amount of pictures from either a drone, helicopter or the ground, then upload them to Scopito, get us to analyze them or do it yourself. And then via the platform you share the data with your customers or colleagues.

Tell us a little bit about the process of development for Scopito. What has the process of development been like, obstacles and successes?

It began in Denmark, 3.5 years ago. I quit my position, after quite some years, at a software company. I was actually pretty happy there – but I kind of knew that I wanted to start something up for myself. And I thought that it would be something with drones. Without knowing more than that, I quit my job to give myself the kick I needed, to follow what I wanted the most.

I got into this entrepreneur program, where one could spend 40 weeks developing an idea for a start up. And I decided to build the world’s best drone. I wanted it to be able to fly 4 times as many minutes as all other helicopter drones on the market. So I spent six months in an old, outworn solarium and build what I had planned. At this point that meant a drone that could fly for a little more than an hour with full sensor package.

I then contacted some utility companies, and they thought it sounded interesting – but weren’t actually interested in buying the drone – they wanted the data. So we changed directions and began selling inspections, delivering everything from drones, flight permissions, pilots and insurances.

When we were to deliver the first inspections we became aware that no system existed that made it feasible to handle all the data. We could without problems deliver a couple of thousand images from a small inspection – but using Windows Picture Viewer and clicking through all this data wasn’t a very scaleable solution. Then we got the idea to develop cloud software that could properly do this – and we founded the company Heliscope, in October 2014, with an investment from an innovation fund.

It was challenging finding the time to both do the inspections and develop the software, because it took a lot of time getting the drones to fly optimally and to fly near power lines. Also, getting the drones stable near high-voltage networks and getting really sharp, focused images, was pretty time consuming.

A bit coincidentally we talked to Denmark’s leading land surveying company, Geopartner – and we sold the inspection business to them, to be able to focus 100 % on developing the software.

Regarding the software, both human and automated processes has it’s up- and downsides. We don’t only have to be able to handle all this data, but also to effectively analyze it. We have people doing this, and we are working on automating it via AI algorithms. The main reason why we want to automate it is that we are talking these huge amounts of data. In Denmark alone, with the current number of inspections, it’s four million pictures a year. Obviously, it is a pretty big job to look through that. And with very repetitive activities, the human brain tends to get less effective with time, and the risk of mistakes is bigger than it will be with the technology that we will eventually see in the future.

And actually we are not seeking to develop these algorithms ourselves, but to find partners from whom we can implement algorithms, from their specific niche – high-voltage networks, wind farms, roads, etc.

What is your vision for Scopito over the next year? How do you envision your company helping to promote and develop the drone industry?

For the next year we’re going to make people aware that we exist. We just recently started our sales and marketing efforts, so not many people know about us yet. So talking to customers and showing them what we can do, and getting their inputs on how they want to use the product, is one thing that we will be doing.

We believe that we are adding to the value chain by giving drone operators an effective way to handle huge amounts of data and deliver it to their customers in a professional way. We believe that having such a system is what makes it possible to work with these huge amounts of data and thereby add value to the data.

Anything else you would like to add?

We would like to offer a gift voucher for a 50% discount for the first 3 months after signing up to the platform. (The platform is already free to use if you upload less than 250 images).

*Voucher code is valid for signups until April 23, 2017.

Drones equipped with a combination of sensors are revolutionizing the oil and gas inspections. At the moment, the drones with thermal imaging, photo, and video cameras as well as gas sniffers and other sensors, are performing a variety of inspection roles. The mobility and sensors allow the drones to analyze the oil and gas pipelines and facilities for existing and potential defects.

A number of energy companies are already deploying UAVs to inspect their rigs, pipelines, and other structures. And these have a number of benefits that range from increasing safety and speed of gathering data, to cost-cutting and improved efficiency.

We believe that the UAV-based inspections are the way to go for many industries. And below are our reasons why we love drone-based oil and gas inspection. And you should, too.

Click to Download a Sample Drone Inspection Report 

Access difficult to reach areas

Drones have the ability to reach locations where humans cannot because of challenges such as limited space, rough terrain, and hostile environment or associated risks. Just like in building inspections, the drones have the ability to get very close to surfaces of the pipelines and other equipment. This allows them to capture high-quality photos and thermal images from several positions and angles.

Improved safety

The traditional inspections are risky as where workers have to hang under ropes and wires, encounter hostile weathers and conditions, and sometimes risk exposure to hazardous chemicals and environments. The severe and uncomfortable conditions prevent the technicians from gathering all the data.

By programming the drone with the flight path along the pipeline, the operator can easily and safely inspect the whole length of the pipeline as well as other oil and gas infrastructure from a safe distance. This eliminates the need for the workers to go to the forest, contaminated areas or other dangerous places where the pipeline passes.

Even after a hurricane or other catastrophe, it is safest to first send the drone to the affected area before sending the technicians. The drones can report back to the control office or area with images and videos of the area as well as the type of gasses it detects in the atmosphere.

Drone-based inspection help in cost cutting

The traditional oil and gas inspections require heavy investments in terms of workers, vehicles, helicopters and inspection gear. In addition, there are associated insurance costs for both equipment and personnel. The company must also incur additional costs for vehicle maintenance and field crew allowances.

Employing drones for oil and gas inspections helps organizations to reduce costs in many ways. First, the company will reduce the number of field crews, equipment, and vehicles. In addition, there is no need to hire helicopters as well as allowances for the field technicians will be greatly reduced.

The drones-based oil and gas inspections requires less inspection equipment and have the advantage of accessing rough and hostile terrains and environments.

Mobility and ease of use

The mobility, speed, ease of use and efficiency of drones will provide the oil and gas companies with the opportunity tocollect data at large scale. Since the drones can access even the most difficult areas, it makes it possible to inspect the whole pipeline and its surrounding, just in case there is need to analyze the extent of a leakage.

Increase frequency of inspections

Since drones are small and inexpensive to operate, you are able to carry out more inspections per month, without shutting down operations and affecting production. In traditional methods, you need to schedule for a shutdown and assemble a number of workers, vehicles, helicopters and other inspection equipment.

Ability to detect spills and environmental impact

When there are leakages and spills, the drone can safely monitor and identify where there is contamination, and the direction the liquids are flowing to. This will help in controlling the flow as well as putting in place the necessary protection and rescue measures.

A drone can accurately track the contamination in many ways that the traditional methods cannot. For example, without the drones, it will require clearing the remote areas or make temporary roads for the personnel to reach and inspect affected areas. However, the drone identifies much faster and the workers will only need to clear that particular area. The traditional method would require clearing a much wider area unnecessarily.

Capturing and availing real time data

Using drone equipped with a combination of visual, thermal and gas sniffing sensors, you will be able to discover almost all the potential defects and hazards along the oil and gas infrastructure. The drones will enable you to monitor the production and transmission facilities and warn you in good time to allow you take action in good time.

The timely data helps the company to repair the leaks and defects before they reach dangerous levels.

Click to Learn More About Drone Based Inspection

Most of today’s building inspections rely on the traditional methods of manually scaling buildings while taking photos or using a manual checklist with a pen and paper.

Workers use Bosun Chairs, suspension scaffolds or swing-stage scaffolds, rope access and other means that allow them to reach the sides or the roof of the building. These methods are not only risky, but also costly, time consuming, and sometimes capital intensive when inspecting tall and big buildings. The job requires more people to complete and the building owner must pay insurance for the workers performing the inspection, something that is not required for the drone operator.

UAV technologies have numerous economic and environmental benefits in keeping industrial and building inspections safe. With the ability to reduce expenses and time to complete inspections , and do so much safer, the drones are likely to become one of the most widely used methods for asset inspections within the next few years.

Demand for safe and fast building inspections have seen a number of industrial asset companies, building owners, Oil and Gas companies, insurers and other supporting businesses adopt emerging UAV technologies. With costs coming down, easing of regulations, and comprehensive software solutions for analyzing data, the use of drones for building inspections is set to increase tremendously within the next three years.

The drones, currently being used for building inspections, and eliminating the risky manual inspections, have the potential to bring down  costs while helping in improving quality. Gartner research projects that the construction industry, will account for 30% UAV market by 2020.

There are several benefits of using drones for inspections, they are able to access difficult to reach locations, take as many photographs as possible, and zoom in whenever required to do so, and especially when there are possible defects. The drones can scale tall buildings within a very short time, do a lot of work , safely, within an hour, and save a lot of man-hours, equipment  cost required to access the building, insurance for the workers, etc.

Combining the drones and other technologies such as VR and fast communications links will enable prospective buyers, inspectors and insurance people to take virtual tours of the building almost in real time.

Currently, only a small percentage of construction industry players are using drones. Despite the potential benefits, the commercial market is still small but growing. Some of the challenges include;

  • Lack of standard data formats to work across different platforms or within existing software environments.
  • Concerns about midair collisions: Future drones will most likely be equipped with sensors to detect objects and other drones within a certain radius.
  • Lack of consistent regulations and global standards for the safe operation of drones
  • Limited drone pilot training to ensure safe UAV operations. There are requirments to train drone pilots on air traffic law, camera usage, meteorology flight time calculation,  handling an emergency, etc.

Potential benefits of using drones for building inspections

The potential for drone-based inspections is huge. Technology advances are seeing and more technologies coming together to provide comprehensive and useful data for the construction, Oil and Gas and building industries. From photography to thermal imaging, the drones are providing a wide range of information likely to shape the construction industry in the coming years. Some of the benefits include;

  • Cost savings by reducing the time, machinery and labor to complete some inspection tasks.
  • Providing  managers with real–time data and video footages of the progress at the site. They do not have to walk around to  different sections of a site. The scan in effect increase efficiency while providing data that can be used to evaluate the quality of work and identify defects . The data can be assessed by several engineers either at the site or off-site, hence allowing wider consultation.
  • The drone surveillance enhances onsite safety and security. It increases productivity .
  • The drones will allow larger  companies to take up and manage multiple projects at the same time, using the same engineers to supervise and coordinate the jobs at a lower cost. This will allow the companies to complete several projects within a short time while providing better quality and saving time and money.
  • People will be able to get accurate and shareable information cost effectively and faster. Insurers, for example, will be able to get the status of a building and the risk data within a short time.

Future of drones in building inspections

The number of commercial drones is expected to rise as regulations are eased and the drones become cheaper, smaller, and easier to operate. Innovative technologies in the photo, thermal, and video cameras, Virtual Reality, analytical tools and high-speed communications will enable the use of drones for a variety of Oil and Gas and building inspection applications.

The software solutions will have the ability to consolidate the videotaped images, photographs, and infrared images, into a comprehensive, easy to interpret and understand interactive reports. Using cloud-based technologies, technicians, managers and facility owners can access the report and get accurate information about the status of the building, allowing them to make informed decisions and plan of action.

Several related industries such as insurers, construction companies, Oil and Gas,and supporting businesses are collaborating to set standards on how to establish safe building inspection practices that will generate standard and comprehensive data that each can consult.

There is a huge opportunity for software companies in providing a wide variety of better technologies for data integration, imaging, object recognition, video analytics, motion imagery, and more.

Conclusion

Combining different technologies such as the VR photo, infrared and video cameras will enable drones to provide enhanced possibilities that will streamline and revolutionize the building inspections.

By 2020, there are likely to be standard regulations for commercial drones across the globe. This will allow more businesses and people to own and operate the devices for building inspections and other activities.

Sky-Futures cloud-based drone inspection visualization and reporting software squarely targets the asset inspection sector, but will it be broadly adopted?

THE FACTS:

No one questions whether the founders of Sky-Futures know what they are doing.  When it comes to drone inspections they have “been there, done that.”  You can read about their history and where they are going in The importance of industrial experience when enabling enterprise with drone capabilities, a post written by co-founder & CEO James Harrison. I won’t repeat all the facts, just the salient one.

When they started in June 2009, they assessed different markets, sizing them and then trying to forecast how they would look in 5 and 10 years’ time. They chose the drone inspection service market in the oil and gas (O&G) industry because of its highly inaccessible, highly hazardous and critical infrastructure, and its focus on safety and regulation. They succeeded in understanding the very specific needs of the industrial inspections market, got steady revenue stream, and have now turned to offering a software-as-a-service (SaaS) product as another generator of their future value. Their product is called ExpanseSM and is designed and built for drone-based operations management, inspections, data analysis, and reporting.

WHAT’S COOL AND WHAT’S NOT

There’s a lot to like about Expanse.  For one, it has an asset-centric view of the world—not an inspection-centric one.  In the inspection-centric view, reports provide little context for consumers of the information on the “who, what, where, and when” of problems. By taking the asset-centric view, Expanse starts with the “where” (a specific structure) and allows users to navigate to the areas of an asset that’s important to them—the “what,” like a rusty pipe or misaligned cell tower antenna. Everyone reading inspection reports has a different need (not everybody has responsibility for the integrity of pipes), so the software provides context.

The other thing that is very smart about Expanse is that all elements of the software are built around the deliverable—the inspection report. In this regard, it starts with the end in mind. How Covey-ish is that? The software enables drone inspection firms to share analysis reports with multiple stakeholders. Customers and third parties can access the media with security controls. It uses leading edge security protocols (like web-based video streaming), where unique permission holder access information is generated for each media file at runtime and cannot be shared with others. This should please enterprise privacy and risk mitigation legal beagles and IT data governance stewards.

There’s a whole host of features that users will like, such as the ability to make 3D links to objects that can be marked up with annotations, measurement, and observational classifications. Additionally, Expanse comes with image analysis tools for scaling, measurement on the incident plane, focus problem area size, comparisons over time, etc.

THE COMPETITION:

Expanse is new to the market, and it’s clear it was built around the needs of Sky-Futures’ O&G clients as consumers of the data. Sky-Futures’ hope is that its software’s features will translate to the requirements of the entire vertical infrastructure inspection market. They hope the integrity, inspection, and business drivers for a bridge, wind turbine, cell tower, and other managed facilities and structures share the same key characteristics that are addressed by their O&G-focused Expanse software.

We have written about the needs of the inspection market in The Truth about Drones in Construction and Infrastructure Inspection, and we think Expanse has a head start on the path to greater adoption. But we also think there will be a struggle for enterprises using drone data in general. That struggle is learning how to integrate the inspection data and analytics from software like Expanse into broader, more highly adopted software used for enterprise asset management (EAM), such as Infor EAM, Oracle EAM, and SAP EAM.

Infor may have leap-frogged all of this with their Drone Enterprise Asset Management Solution (DEAMS), which is also offered Drone Aviation Corp. Infor’s DEAMS uses purpose-built middleware that processes the data collected by drones’ onboard sensors and integrates it with Infor EAM and its maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) applications. The data from DEAMS can also be analyzed with easy-to-use analytics to produce up-to-date information about the asset life, allowing for quicker and more effective decision-making.

BOTTOM LINE:

So, stepping back, one question remains: In the long run, will large enterprises employ service providers who use software like Expanse, or will they opt for integrated solutions like DEAMS? There may be a middle ground when Sky-Futures (or a third party) offers integration plugins for broader EAM solutions. We’ll see.  In the meantime, we expect that Expanse will continue to evolve and offer new features that other customers outside of O&G want.

Image credit: Sky-Futures

This post first appeared on DRONELIFE.com