Every day, drones are used to make people’s lives easier. They have a number of applications across dozens of industries, and are used to make tasks more time efficient, financially efficient, and in some cases, to save lives. Drone’s have the capability to change how we work for the better. To put it simply - drones are tools, not toys.
Drones Are Making Inspections Easier.
Drones have proven to offer tremendous benefits in industries of all sorts. Particularly, drones have made a number of inspections in transportation, energy, renewable energy, water systems and air quality strikingly more efficient.
Drones are equipped with cameras and sensors that provide real-time information that can be stored for later analysis. These features have proved their worth detecting failing structures and equipment in significantly less time and cost than traditional methods.
Across the world we are facing infrastructure strain resulting from population growth, climate change and dated infrastructure systems. Drones have been playing a growing role in identifying problems in these systems relied on by people for business and daily life.
Here are five types of inspection examples that have been made easier with the use of drone technology.
Shockingly, more than 55,000 bridges in the US are considered structurally deficient. Now, about 80% of state highway departments have drone programs to aid infrastructure monitoring. In the transportation sector drones are used for bridge, pavement and light-pole inspections, as well as capturing aerial perspective on construction progress. Drones capture more accurate data about what's going on, without having workers climb heights, use a bucket truck or be close to speedy roadways.
According to Power, one study found that drones could detect concrete cracks on bridges down to 0.02 inches even in minimal light. Another striking example was that using drone technology to collect railroad survey data on busy tracks cut data collection to two days, which otherwise would have taken an estimate of three to six months.
In the U.S. many transmission and distribution lines predate the turn of the 20th century and with about a 50-year life expectancy, a great deal of maintenance is required. In relation, as a group, transmission line workers are retiring with few new workers joining the force.
Not to mention the more than 2.6 million miles of Oil and Gas pipelines in America prone to periodic failures. Drones are used as a solution in these areas by their impressive surveillance capabilities. Using aerial photography and software to create high resolution vegetation maps, indicating areas with leaks; using infrared cameras to produce thermal imagery and hotspots invisible to the human eye; and gaining close-ups of flare stacks without having to shut down.
Solar farm developers use drones to capture geographic data to create 3D maps. The maps integrate into the company’s software for site planning and energy harvesting estimates. Then it crunches data related to angles, terrain and position to generate the best layout and optimal megawatt output.
Drones with thermal sensors are used in this field to easily inspect which solar panels are offline or underperforming. They are also used to provide close-up images to inspect wind turbine blades without having workers to climb the turbine itself.
Dams, aqueducts, hydroelectric equipment, treatment plants, reservoirs and more need frequent inspection. Infrared technology on drones are used for leak detection, environmental and equipment monitoring and security. Many of the nation’s dams are reaching the end of their productive lives. Aerial views help officials see what’s happening in real-time and guide repairs and evacuation response if necessary.
Water system managers have also noted drones being beneficial in vegetation management, construction management and documentation during dam replacements.
Drones equipped with infrared devices are used to survey sites for exceeding pollution limits. They were even used back in 2019 when Bangkok’s air pollution levels reached dangerous levels. Officials used a drone fleet to spray water and non-hazardous chemicals into the air. More research is needed, but results showed a 10 microgram per cubic meter reduction of dust particles.
In addition, a Nature Communications report suggests drones can aid GHG reduction and energy efficiency in the freight sector. Drones are advantageous in delivering supplies to hard to reach areas and typically have much lower GHG emissions than ground-based transport.
Drone programs have been implemented by progressive businesses and in majority of cases have proved a substantial payback. Drones have proven to make inspections easier, safer and cheaper in countless situations.These businesses are leading the way for drone industry growth and acceptance. It will be very interesting to see how drone technology expands to other applications in our daily lives over the next few years.