Inspections are a major application for drones, but the type of equipment chosen depends upon the type of inspection required. “Inspections” can mean anything from a basic real estate job requiring images of a steep roof to the complex inspection of an energy installation: and the drones required for each application differ significantly.
Dyan Gibbens, one of the founders of Trumbull Unmanned, a global leader in inspection services for the energy sector, is an internationally recognized expert in her field. Dyan explains that the right type of system for an inspection job depends upon a number of factors, including the asset, location, type and frequency of inspection, and the weather.
Depending upon the type of application, Dyan points out, there can be other issues to think about: “At Trumbull, we start with requirements. Then, we chose the appropriate sensor and the system that can most reliably and safely carry that sensor. Often overlooked areas include data security and data management.”
Lia Reich, VP of Marketing and Communications at PrecisionHawk, a leading drone platform, agrees on that approach. It’s not just the aircraft, Lia says, but the combination of tools that make up the right solution for the job. “Companies are rapidly focusing efforts to harness geospatial data to improve their business, but at PrecisionHawk, we understand that not every geospatial problem and deliverable can be achieved with the same tool,” says Reich. “Today, understanding the right combination of drone, sensor and software for inspecting vegetation encroachment around powerlines versus measuring stockpiles at a construction site is critical to the success of the operation.”
While the company is a proven drone manufacturer – the Lancaster fixed wing is a top pick for many applications – PrecisionHawk has oriented their business towards the delivery of complete solutions. “By having a wide range of drone platforms and sensor configurations to fit a client’s specific application, PrecisionHawk focuses on producing industry specific solutions that can be imported into existing GIS and mapping databases,” says Reich. “In the future, as platforms become cheaper, easier to use and more readily available, the conversation will be equally coupled with how to choose a software that can automatically and rapidly extract the desired information from any drone the business prefers.”
When the requirements have been clearly defined, and payloads and platforms identified, which drones are most commonly used as the vehicle for inspections? Starting from the simpler applications primarily requiring imaging and moving up to more complex jobs, here are 5 of the top drones used in inspections.
#1. The DJI Inspire. The DJI Inspire is a prosumer drone with a lot of advantages for professional operators working in inspections. The Inspire is designed to integrate seamlessly with many of the tools required for inspection applications: DJI’s professional Zenmuse camera systems, including the Zenmuse XT thermal and the Zenmuse X5 for 3D mapping. The Inspire is also sold as part of thermal imaging company FLIR’s Aerial Thermal Imaging Kits, ready to go solutions which provide the tools and platform required to provide thermal imaging for clients. These thermal imaging tools are required for many types of inspections including building and roofing inspections, solar inspections, and utility inspections.
#2. The Matrice Enterprise Drones. DJI’s enterprise solution, the Matrice pro family, is a durable and portable drone designed for industry. The Matrice 100 is a part of PrecisionHawk’s Precision Construction Package – a complete solution for the construction industry which includes the drone, sensors, software, processing and app to deliver all of the actionable data required in construction. The Matrice 200 Series, scheduled to be released in Q2, is a high performance, weather-resistant drone optimized for inspection applications including bridges, power lines, and wind turbines. The platform allows for the integration of third-party sensors such as LiDAR scanner or for the development of customized mobile applications.
#3. Intel/AscTec Falcon 8. When Intel purchased European drone manufacturer Ascending Technologies last year, they got not only the sense and avoid technologies that the two companies had been collaborating on, but an established fleet of well-engineered professional and research drones. With the Falcon 8 and the newly released Falcon 8+ professionals get the benefit of both companies’ strengths. The Intel Falcon 8+ is not designed – or priced – for hobbyists, but is built to handle all kinds of conditions, offering full electronic system redundancy and a triple redundant autopilot to compensate for potential hardware failures, or external factors like electromagnetic fields or strong winds. The Inspection Pro package suggests the necessary accessories for inspection professionals: including thermal and digital cameras, video goggles, and independent camera control for a second camera man.
#4. Lockheed Indago 2. Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT) is a world leader in military drone technology, but drones like the Lockheed Martin Procerus Technologies Indago quadrotor provide an endurance tool for civilians and military alike. The drone is available with payload options and advanced ground control software appropriate for agriculture, firefighting, first response, and mapping, surveying and inspections. For inspections around energy installations like oil refineries, the drone’s ability to capture detailed images from 300 feet away allows use during normal operations, eliminating the need to shut down systems for inspections; and rugged construction allows use in all weather conditions.
#5. Aeryon Skyranger. The Aeryon is another drone that makes the transition smoothly from military to commercial use. An endurance aircraft boasting a flight time of up to 50 minutes and reliable performance in all kinds of challenging environments, the Skyranger also offers a wide variety of payloads designed for inspection applications. “For commercial sUAS operators, the HDZoom30 enables close inspection tasks on critical infrastructure such as power lines, flare stacks, and cellular towers, by delivering detailed, high-resolution images without bringing the aircraft into unnecessarily close proximity to the structure,” says Aeryon. “For instance, an operator can read the serial number on a power line insulator from a safe distance of 100 ft. (30 m).”
Drone technology offers clear advantages for inspections, providing more and better data in a safe and less expensive manner. The ROI for industry is significant, leading more and more verticals to utilize professional drones for inspections. As demand ramps up, the drone industry continues to develop new drones, payloads, platforms and tools to make inspections easier, safer, and more profitable for companies and drone operators alike.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
Subscribe to DroneLife here.