If content is king, then data must be in the firmament of imperial titles. The world has woken up to the power of ‘big data’ and what it means for businesses, but the means of data collection continues to evolve, often at breakneck speed.
The world of remotely piloted aerial vehicles, almost universally dubbed as drones, has become an icon of a world in fast forward mode. It is extremely easy to become entranced by the excitement of the drone industry, flying helicopters, fixed wing solutions, tethered, electric, based on ships…the types are almost endless.
ARPAS-UKiskeen to be an evangelist for the application and relevance of drones, albeit the manufacturers of airframes play a vital role in development of the industry. For CIO’s tasked to roll out or enhance digital strategies, data from drones can play a key role in supporting efficient implementation of data from a plethora of sources.
When you think about it, the drone airframe is essentially the delivery vehicle for sensors and electronics, that not only aid the flight journey, but importantly the identification, collection and in some cases real time relay of data.
The implications are huge. For a spectrum of industries, drones have overnight, disrupted old, tried and trusted, but inevitably dangerous and/or inefficient, ways of collecting information or fulfilling tasks Take for example, the need to survey a spectrum of assets. These could range from commercial building.
and residential properties, agriculture and rail lines and police crime scenes to oil pipelines and wind turbines. The advantages of drones are speed, accuracy of data, improved safety and lower cost, individually worth exploring but together some powerful benefits.
This compares with the way we collected data that was potentially cumbersome and resource heavy, to say the least. In the case of farmland or forestry, individuals would be dispatched to establish growing patterns, test for acidity, and a range of criteria for crop yield analysis. Through tools such as spectral analysis, Infra-red, LiDAR amongst others, estates managers or government agencies can quickly cover thousands of hectares, in just a few days, whereas humans would take months.
However, most importantly, lives are not put at risk, for example with wind farms, often in harsh and hard to get to terrain, such as offshore installations, inspections can be aided or even wholly done through remote monitoring, through to cleaning of rotor blades.
In the construction and allied industries, inspections are being revolutionised using drones in industries where falls from height are the biggest cause of fatalities and serious injuries.
In simple terms, for many jobs the benefits can be summed up as Safer, Faster, and Cheaper than traditional methods. There is also a ‘greener’ argument in some activities, where drones can be used as an alternative to fossil fuelled traditional aviation or ground transportation.
The activities that are mentioned most frequently in construction are inspection and surveying. Only a short while ago there were issues of accuracy, but dramatic improvements mean this is no longer a constraint. Also, the addition of improved cameras, Lidar, Thermal and multispectral sensors mean that many more industry requirements can be met.
Drones have already been used on the A14, the M6, HS2, Network Rail and National Grid infrastructure projects to name a few. As an industry we are not yet very good at getting customers’ permission to publish our accomplishments, but they exist, and we must learn to shout louder about these successes.
Future-gazing, a multitude of further uses will be found for drones, as we progressively remove as many people as we can from working at height or in hazardous environments. Accuracy and repeatability will be fundamental requirements. Having the accurate data from inspections, for example, will allow for developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) to automatically compare subsequent inspections and automate the next steps. This use of AI is not without its challenges, but it will happen. Next will come what we have termed ‘Drones that Do’. These drones will spray, repair, clean and many more activities – only our current thinking limits the opportunity.
Going forward, we expect to see solutions that are flown Beyond Visual Line of Sight(BVLOS). When this becomes a regular activity, it will bring with it a transport capability for drones, alongside their existing data capture functionality. From an aviation perspective we would see airspace management, detect and avoid, eConspicuity (the technology that can help pilots, unmanned aircraft users and air traffic services be more aware of what is operating in surrounding airspace), remote ID and many more topics that will need solutions over the coming years. The continued miniaturisation of sensors and therefore drones will also provide for better accuracy, improved resolutions and improved cost performance of the solutions available. But for all of these it is vital to ensure that the UK can take advantage of the opportunities offered by drones.
We will also see improved standards relating to both data and safety, and improvements in education, training and communication relevant to industry roles. In order to achieve progress ARPAS will continue to work with other organisations and trade associations to provide drone expertise where it is needed.
If you are involved in the development of information, the need for cybersecurity, an understanding of data retrieval and analysis, it makes sense that you appreciate how drones can become a key tool for your organisation.