Five Examples of How Data Dictates an Aerial Inspection Drone

UAV sitting in a field

Drones are a fantastic tool for gathering visual data, but as the saying goes, you need to pick the right tool for the job. Drones come in all shapes and sizes, and can be outfitted with a variety of sensors for specific monitoring applications. There is no cookie-cutter approach to drone aerial inspection that will get the optimal data in every scenario, drone operators are very considerate of what kind of vehicle is going to get the job done on a case-by-case basis.

When SkyX approaches a project, we start with the data – our primary objective – and work backward from there. Why? The type of data you’re trying to get will determine the requirements of your vehicle. To understand what this looks like, let’s examine five aerial monitoring applications and how the desired data determines the vehicle system we use:

1. Midstream Oil & Gas Pipelines:

The monitoring application that SkyX is built on. Think of a transmission pipeline from a monitoring standpoint, while a pipeline is a relatively simple structure, the complexity lies in the distance. Most often, we’re looking for leaks, potential causes of future damage, and unauthorized third-party activity – most of which can be identified or verified using optical payloads. So, our primary consideration in this instance is having the endurance to perform long-ranging linear surveys. For this job, a fixed-wing system is ideal, as this design makes the most effective use of power for high-endurance flight.

2. Power Transmission:

Yet another type of infrastructure following a long, linear path, with a (hopefully) well-defined right-of-way that makes it relatively easy to identify problem areas with third-party activity, vegetation encroachment, or damage from severe weather. So, the logical choice must be a fixed-wing aircraft yet again? For a broad right-of-way inspection, yes. But, the towers that form an integral part of transmission line infrastructure are complex multi-story structures that may require a closer look. In this instance, a helicopter-class vehicle will offer both the endurance to adequately-address the distance, and the maneuverability to perform multi-point inspections of transmission towers without the risk and cost associated with using a manned helicopter.

3. Upstream Oil & Gas Facilities:

Not all asset inspections are a long-distance affair. In the case of upstream oil and gas, the job usually boils down to visually-inspecting specific facilities and structures, such as drills and flare stacks. Multirotor vehicles provide the stability and maneuverability to inspect complex structures with ease. While multirotor systems tend to lack the endurance of other aircraft, this isn’t a concern when we’re performing a highly-focused inspection on a modest area of coverage.

4. Railway Lines:

While the three previous examples highlighted the differences between vehicles, this application is a great example of the difference payload can make. To provide meaningful data for track maintenance, railway inspections must capture very minuscule objects and details, such as the condition of bolts & fasteners or the distance between rails. For this reason, having a high-resolution camera is essential. By hitting the sweet spot of camera spec and flight height, known as the ground sampling distance (or GSD), it’s possible to capture images with enough detail to examine these elements. With high-detail imagery, we can setup computer vision algorithms for successful analysis of these points of interest. For further insights, using a LiDAR sensor for 3D-modelling can help you get precise information on issues such as flooding and erosion around your tracks.

5. Wildfire Monitoring:

A final example that highlights the importance of both vehicle and payload. In this application, a helicopter-style vehicle is ideal, with both the endurance to perform sustained monitoring of a wildfire and the maneuverability to lock-onto and track important targets of interest (animals or people). Helicopters can also take-off and land from virtually anywhere, which makes them very valuable for a mobile firefighter crew, that won’t be able to launch and recover the aircraft from a specific area all the time. The quality of data you can get during wildfire monitoring is vastly improved by having the right payload. For instance, a gas spectrometer can be used to detect the level of particulates in the air from the fire, while a gimballed EO/IR camera is useful for thermal analysis, to better protect your team on the ground and aid in remediation efforts.

It’s All in the Pursuit of Data

Remember, having the right aerial system is just one part of the equation. At SkyX, our purpose-built aerial systems are just the eyes of the operation. Raw sensor data only becomes meaningful once it’s processed by the brain, which at SkyX, takes the form of machine-learning algorithms. Using these technologies to perform hyper-efficient analysis of raw data collected from each flight, we ensure that only the most actionable insights are delivered to the customer from each monitoring expedition.

Drones are great for getting the visuals and readings you need to generate high-quality data, especially when you pick the right tool for the job. Not to mention, by making aerial inspection with drones a routine part of your monitoring operation, you can gain access to the insights needed to develop an effective predictive analytics model. However, keep in mind that plenty more goes into getting truly valuable insights from the raw information collected by a drone, and end-to-end service providers like SkyX can help you to get the utmost quality of data with this technology.

Have questions about how high-quality aerial data can elevate your organization?

Contact our team to discuss your unique challenges and data requirements.