Industries that are taking advantage of drone technology all have one thing in common; assets and operations that can take large amounts of time and money to inspect. With aerial drone inspections, developers and researchers can now better analyze and understand the job sites they are operating on. From collecting precise data, to observing up-to-date timelines of their assets.
In a report released last year by Business Insider Intelligence, business opportunities for drones will mainly focus on industries such as energy, agriculture, construction, mining, utilities, real estate, and media. The report forecasts that drones could also likely replace $127 million worth of existing business services and labour, with sales expected to grow to $12 billion by 2021.
Thanks to drone technology, companies are now transforming the way they conduct their inspections. With high quality 4K cameras, obstacle avoidance technology, and customizable programming capabilities, operators can now safely navigate their drone through unsafe or previously inaccessible environments, collect precise data, and create 3D maps and orthomosaics to analyze and improve the efficiency of their operations.
Whether it is a building or a technical installation, construction sites must abide to strict safety regulations and inspections can be very costly. When it comes to work on construction sites, drone technology can help operators inspect everything from roads, to bridges and dams, while keeping workers safe from potentially dangerous environments and situations. A drone can help management create 3D maps, orthomosaics, collect elevation data, and gather volumetric measurements to map out, build, and develop key projects.
According to Trevor Bergmann, general manager of AeroVision Canada, a Halifax-based company that specializes in commercial asset inspection, using a drone on inspection sites can greatly improve safety for workers. "It's about the health and safety advantage," he said. "It's really important that operators get as much detail as they can, especially for the management who want a comprehensive analysis of what the job site looks like, without putting anyone in harm's way."
An advantage of using a drone, especially when it comes to construction, is the ability to build 3D maps to view an exact timeline of a job site from beginning to end. Clients can pass the timeline to management to give them an exact observation of how a job site is progressing. This advantage can prove to be invaluable, as it can make logistics planning easier, and save on time and expenditures, said Bergmann. "The management team can have access to a constantly rotating baseline of exactly how the build is going, which makes planning a lot easier. The developers can configuration manage their operation to see exactly where they started and where they have to go."
The agriculture industry is one sector that is already being completely revolutionized by drone technology. A drone cruising over a large plot of land can collect data and high quality imagery to help farmers better analyze and monitor moister levels, soil quality, potential disease and general crop health. With this information, farmers can maximize their productivity as well as better analyze crops or livestock to find potential problems before they grow.
The agriculture sector is currently experiencing a massive push towards using drone technology, the biggest being toward crop monitoring. "There is definitely a growing need for drone technology in agriculture," said Bergmann. "More specifically, farmers are looking for information that can help them observe irrigation problems, plant health, and pests."
Whereas traditional inspections on fields were done through satellite imagery, helicopters, or farmers simply walking through their fields, a drone can enable farmers to have a quick and cheap tool at their disposal to monitor crops and livestock. With multispectral cameras, and infrared technology, farmers can observe and identify healthy and unhealthy plants unseen to the naked eye by analyzing wavelengths and chlorophyll levels. Drones can even be used for crop spraying large sections of land quickly and efficiently.
Largely, drones are an extremely economical technology for farmers. With drone inspection, farmers can customize exactly what types of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer to use based on data collected from their drone, therefore saving time and avoiding over or under use of resources. The information collected by a drone can help reduce fertilizer use, increase crop yields, dispense water and pesticides, and detect problems before they develop.
Whether it be for search and rescue purposes, environmental reasons, or to improve energy efficiency, any drone can be equipped with a thermal camera to detect things invisible to the naked eye. A thermal camera can be used for applications such as electrical and solar panel inspection, mapping, and infrastructure assessment.
A wide variety of industries can take advantage of thermal technology from law enforcement to agriculture, as they can assess wide ranges of land and easily identify hot spots. Firefighters can use thermal cameras to better analyze wildfires and quickly identify victims in the environment. In agriculture, thermal cameras can also evaluate ripeness of fruits, estimate plant yields, detect disease or pests on plants, as well as monitor irrigation levels. In real estate and construction, thermal cameras can even assess insulation, compromised roofing, perform energy audits, and inspect air leakage. Information collected via thermal imagery can also detect abnormal or excessive current flows in electrical power lines.
Early detection of problems and preventative maintenance is an area that thermal technology excels in. Attaching a thermal camera to a drone can help developers detect and document problems before they start. By using a thermal camera, operators can detect heat leakages, water intrusion, prevent energy lost, or detect failed components on an asset.
Health and safety is a top priority in the mining industry, and drones are making mining sites safer than ever before for employees. Pilots can attain data without exposing workers to dangerous environments and save on expenses at the same time. Operators can use a drone to monitor extractions, assess volumetric calculations, measure break lines, create contour line models, and 3D maps.