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If you are contemplating the use of drones, and how to maximize the potential; or more importantly, your return on investment, then you should consider this; the benefits go further than the eye can see. Transmission Powerlines, Pipelines, Roadways, Railways and other infrastructures have two key aspects in common: (1) they all require periodic inspection to comply with local regulations and proper upkeep, and (2) they are long—extending from a few to 100’s if not 1000’s of kilometers.
Standard drone inspections are limited to VLOS or (visual line of sight) operations. Laws vary by country, but typical regulations require the PIC or (Pilot In Command) to have unaided visual custody of the uAS (unmanned aircraft system) throughout its entire flight. “Unaided” in this context means “eyeball” or human eyesight with normal corrective lenses; and means that the PIC cannot use binoculars or a telescope to keep the uAS in sight at long distances. Visual Observers can be used to maintain visual sight of the drone with live communications between the VO and the PIC.
How far does VLOS extend? Most regulating authorities do not quantify the distance, but instead, leaves it to the expert discretion of the PIC. In general, most commercial drones are commonly visible up to about 1-1.5 km from the pilot. For a linear inspection, this means that the pilot can overfly about 3 km of the inspection subject at a time, and then have to relocate about 3 km further down the linear feature. This is a lot of repositioning which adds time and complexity to an infrastructure inspection.
To fly a 15 kilometer feature, or AOI (area of interest) mission using VLOS protocols,
will require the flight team to reposition about 5 times to inspect 3 kilometers per position.
Let us compare a VLOS operation with a BVLOS or (beyond visual line of sight) operation. BVLOS or long range drone inspection operations allow the pilot to fly the drone beyond the standard VLOS limits. This means it can fly well beyond the normal 1.5 km visual limit to cover more ground during a single mission.
The same 15 kilometer feature, or AOI
(area of interest), using BVLOS protocols,
can be flown in a single flight mission.
Many countries require specific waivers or approvals for a BVLOS operation, and the pilot must include some safeguards to keep the uAS clear of obstacles and other air traffic. There may be situations that will require a Visual Observer to retain visual custody; in the case of our 15-km linear feature, this may imply pre-staging 4 Visual Observers along the flight path to monitor the UAV throughout its flight.
Not all uAS are capable of conducting BVLOS operations, and even fewer conduct them well. Power-efficient fixed-wing drones are a common platform of choice, however other drone platforms; all depending on the particular need for capacity, endurance and other requirements may be utilized. And then there are other considerations such as long-range datalinks and obstacle avoidance technology.
Click here “Long Range Drone Platforms” to learn more about BVLOS, long range drone inspection operations, and the various long range drone types and how they work.
Once you begin flying BVLOS long range drone inspection operations, the FIRST thing that will become immediately apparent, is the realization that there is a lot of data. A LOT of data. You will have graduated from a few hundred images upwards to thousands of images in a single day. Data Overload can be a significant challenge that stifles many DSP’s or (drone service providers) attempts to scale to large operations using BVLOS methodology. Let us examine how to handle this new source of seemingly infinite information.
Data Cloud — typically, drone data is stored on an SD card or internal memory until manually extracted via USB or Wi-Fi. Flying long range inspection missions will present new challenges to managing your inspection data. For instance, we may need to swap out the SD card periodically during the or throughout a flight mission, which may impact the efficiency of the BVLOS or long range inspection. While rare, another concern might be a corrupted SD card, and losing an entire mission’s data.
Enter cloud-based data management. With the advent of connectivity capabilities in drones and resources i.e., 4G, 5G data connections, (and Starlink in development) we can now leverage cloud-based storage, and upload imagery in the field, and in some cases uploading data as it is collected. This correlates to unmatched data integrity, faster acquisition-to-processing cycles, and instantaneous collaboration. Further, image data may be analyzed in real-time: the pilot receives instant feedback allowing the operator to take a closer look at a trouble spot(s) before landing the drone!
In-depth Analysis — no human can hope to manually sift through gigabytes of imagery to spot nuanced anomalies. An optimal data analysis process is designed with a high degree of automation and machine learning in order to extract the most information from the raw data in a timely manner. AI or (artificial intelligence) performs most of the heavy lifting, while human experts can provide sage judgement and remedy solutions. This harmonious Human/Machine Teaming provides the best of both worlds. AI algorithms learn over time, and harvests valuable learning data from every single mission to enhance fault detection and predictive analysis capabilities. AI has the combined brain of hundreds of linemen, and it keeps learning.
Relevant Reporting — How long do you want to wait for your infrastructure inspection results? What if you were able to obtain initial reports on the day? Would that be useful? Cloud-basing exposes the AI process to imagery as it is being collected near-real time and can even identify trouble areas in a matter of seconds after the image was taken! These flags are applied to geotagged and timestamped images for historical traceability. If a repair crew can be dispatched within minutes of identifying a fault, the drone pilot may then have the opportunity to collect new or updated imagery the same day before leaving the site!
As the world’s power infrastructures continue to expand and become increasingly complicated, drones have emerged as the “norm” in infrastructure inspections. The volume of data and need for efficient data management will always remain a challenge in the drone inspection sector. This is the realm where Scopito operates.
Scopito views data as the common pinch-point when it comes to large-scale inspections. Prior to the advent of drones, Data Acquisition was the bottleneck that bogged down the process. Now, as drones and sensor technology explode in quantity and sophistication, Data Processing has become the new bottleneck. Scopito has chosen to focus on that very issue and bring results to the industry. Solutions are found for real world problems like the inefficiency of manually moving the data between the SD card, to computer hard drive, to archival server, to the data processor, and ultimately to the outbox. All-the-while, data can be corrupted or lost at any step. With cloud-based data storage, not only can the data be uploaded and saved during the flight, it is accessible for remote analysis in near real-time. And by the time the inspection flight profile is completed, the data analysis is well on its way with fault identifications and solutions.
How much data can you store? A few terabytes? How well is it backed up across multiple storage devices in multiple locations? Will it survive a catastrophic event such as a fire or flood? Scopito offers industry-leading quantities of data archival, meaning you don’t have to worry about solving the redundant storage challenge.
What kind of return on investment will Scopito give you?
Reduced Manpower and Inspection Time — This is golden for both the utility company and DSP. If you are the utility company, you have to meet the required visual and detailed inspections (some cases every 1-2 years and 3-5 years respectively). Incorporating Scopito into your drone inspection program reduces complexity and labor hours for these recurring tasks. Missions are pre-planned during your downtime, and then flown on-demand when weather and other external factors allow it. The profiles can then be repeated indefinitely, year-after-year, with centimeter-level accuracy.
Accuracy — Scopito’s advanced AI is continually developing and can be trained to find even the most nuanced faults, which is very important when you are collecting many kilometers’ worth of data. Unlike humans, the AI does not get bored or frustrated with the mundane work of sifting through thousands of images. Once it finds a fault, it provides a visual indication on a real image, and provides a precise location. There is no guesswork as to what or where the problem area is. You can rest assured that the maintenance crew will be well-equipped to go to the proper location with the proper equipment to fix the problem. Precision data and reduced errors go directly to your bottom line. Now that’s good business. Click here “How accurate is AI fault detection” to learn more about how AI fault detection really works.
If you manage large areas of infrastructure, or you are a DSP that services such organizations, you should consider if BVLOS long range drone inspection operations can positively impact your business and your bottom line. BVLOS is increasing in popularity as regulations ease and technology grows in sophistication. Fixed-wing drones with high-resolution cameras and PPK processing are the current standard for most use cases, and most aviation authorities have made some allowance for commercial BVLOS operations. The equipment and the waivers are only half the battle; the other half is how to manage the flood of data that each mission will bring back.
Cloud-based data storage and processing is an emerging technique to handle Big Data that is perfectly suited to large-scale operations such as transmission line drone inspections. It de-risks the data handling workflow, shortens the acquisition-to-processing timeline, and delivers results at speeds previously unheard of. The difference becomes even more evident with higher resolution cameras, multiple sources of imagery (RGB and thermal), and centimeter-level geolocation.
Scopito is specifically optimized for this volume of Data Management because it was developed by industry professionals who faced these same challenges and needed a robust and reliable solution. Scopito grows with your enterprise operations to deliver actionable information faster than ever thought imaginable. You can scale your infrastructure inspections with confidence.
With drone technology, the sky is no longer the limit. With BVLOS drones, neither is the horizon.
Contact us if you’re considering implementing a BVLOS inspection strategy and would like to speak with a subject matter expert.
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