Aerial Drones Used to Survey Dangerous Locations
Aerial Drones are being adopted as the go-to data collection solution for hazardous and dangerous industries such as oil and gas, petrochemicals and construction sites. Maximizing human safety and minimizing pre-safety planning and risk is top priority for these industries.
What are aerial drones?
“Drone” is used to refer to an unnamed aircraft pre-programmed with a flight plan, where the aircraft would fly in either a straight line or around in circles until the engine runs low on fuel and the drone lands. Today, however, the term “drone” has evolved into a catchall term that includes unmanned robots, regardless of whether they are preprogrammed or remotely controlled. The term is used to refer to robots designed for water, land and air use.
Of all the drones used today, the most common is the aerial one, which can either be an RPA (remote piloted aircraft) or UAV (unmanned/unpiloted aerial vehicle).
Compared to traditional ground-based methods, aerial drones are more popular nowadays when it comes to surveying restricted and unsafe locations because of their faster turnaround times and significant cost savings. Today, industries such as construction, oil and gas, mining, forestry and agriculture are already taking advantage of this relatively new technology in surveying large sites—something that is almost impossible with other conventional ground-based surveying methods.
What are the two common types of aerial drones?
Remote-piloted aircraft (RPA)
An RPA is operated just as its name suggests. The device is controlled remotely either by a short-range remote control or from a more complex remote base station. These drones are used in both commercial and military applications and are often similar to helicopters, with more than one rotor blade that functions. Of all the types of RPAs, the most common are the quadrotor and octorotor.
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV)
Unlike RPAs, UAVs are pre-programmed prior to flight to accomplish a specific set of tasks on a specific flight path. UAVs typically look like airplanes and are used in military situations, although with some exceptions.
What are the different applications of aerial drones?
Aerial drones have several uses and applications. May it be military or commercial, the applications of drones are essentially similar in nature. In the future, it is possible that the types of drones available will be endless, especially considering how technology progresses through time. There will come a time when it will be normal seeing people riding around in driverless cars, or micro-drones making people cups of coffee.
As of today, the most common uses of drones are the following:
Attack drones are used exclusively by the military, that is why they are equipped with lethal weapons and used for controlled air strikes in hostel or inaccessible areas.
Crowd control drones
Typically used by the military and law enforcement, crowd control drones are equipped with non-lethal weapons such as tear gas and sound cannons. The military use them to break up massive, out-of-control crowds of people without causing them any substantial physical harm.
These drones basically function in delivering goods to ground troops. Intended for the military, delivery drones are equipped with a claw or similar delivery system and are used to drop items or place them in a desired target area. Shipping companies like DHL and Amazon have already adopted delivery drones to minimize shipping overtimes, overhead costs and unsafe driving conditions.
Monitoring drones are equipped with standard and infrared cameras and are used to survey different types of areas. Most monitoring drones also have sensitive weather instrumentation, allowing them not just to prevent street crimes but help detect and prevent forest fires as well. They can also be used for reconnaissance missions and military operations.
These drones are most popular nowadays in the art world. Before, aerial photos and videos had to be taken from an airplane or helicopter, making them way too expensive. With the advent of drone technology, however, it is now possible to get all kinds of stunning shots from the sky even without having to spend for helicopters or airplanes. Photographers and videographers nowadays make use of commercial drones to take aerial shots.
What are the benefits of aerial drones?
They can survey up to 2,000 acres or several miles of land
Aerial drones are uniquely efficient in the topographic surveying of large sites. Using aerial drones in surveying offers more significant time savings compared with conventional techniques, making it possible for a single crew to survey up to 2,000 acres or several miles of linear corridor per day. The levels of time and cost efficiency offered by aerial drones are simply not possible when using ground-based surveying methods.
They offer high quality, survey grade photography
If you want to periodically capture up-to-date aerial photography of your site, use aerial drones. Advanced aerial drone systems are equipped with cameras that are capable of delivering geo-referenced, survey-grade photography that are at a much higher resolution than popular online map databases. High quality photography is a must for engineers, architects, planners and other technical professionals working in hazardous industries where they are regularly required to make critical design decisions.
They offer smarter and faster damage assessments
Natural disasters can have a profound impact on work sites, most negatively affecting industries like mining, petrochemical, oil and construction. Aerial drones have opened the door to smarter and faster damage assessments in the aftermath of disasters like floods or tornadoes.
In post-disaster situations, companies may hire a UAV surveying consultant to capture the post-damage aerial imagery of the site and conduct infrastructure inventory assessments. It doesn’t matter if the location spans hundreds of acres. Aerial drones can do the job.
They keep surveyors out of harm’s way
With drones, it is much easier to survey mines, quarries, protected wetlands, waste dumps, and other dangerous locations. Because most aerial drone systems today make use of direct geo-referencing technology that does not require ground control points, it is possible to collect data from the sky while keeping pilots out of harm’s way. Some aerial drones can even fly more than 30 miles from the take-off point.
They eliminate the risks associated with land surveying
Although land surveyors are usually getting above-average pays, their work does not always consider weather conditions or physical fatigue. Regardless of how bad the weather is, their work is always outdoors. There is also an added danger of tough or unexpected terrain. With drone mapping solutions, however, the risks associated with surveying such as heavy equipment and hazardous injuries are eliminated. With just a click, a drone can easily survey a dangerous location and obtain a complete aerial mapping of a certain site without putting anyone at risk of serious injury.
They complete site surveys in less time.
When it comes to speed, done mapping can’t compare to land surveying, which needs longer hours and requires a surveyor to carry heavy equipment from one location to another. By using a drone with hd camera, land surveyors can complete a site survey with the same amount of accuracy in less time. Drones also make it possible for ad hoc flights of entire sites or specific areas to regularly have easy access to the most up-to-date information on a site.
They allow surveyors to make efficient use of their budget.
In any industry, ensuring that the budget is efficiently used is always at the forefront. With drone technology, surveyors are able to complete surveying tasks in significantly less time than traditional ground surveying methods. Because of the increased speed of aerial drones and the easy automation that drones provide, companies are able to safely take on and complete surveying tasks in less time and for less money.
They make surveying possible with a single tool.
Traditionally, land surveyors use theodolites, infrared reflectors and GPS to survey sites. With the advent of aerial drones, however, they can now survey locations with drones that autonomously pilot with just a push of a button. Aerial drones are capable of producing the same results as conventional surveying tools, but without all the heavy lifting and exhaustion. This, in turn, allows surveyors to be safer and spend less time and budget on each site trip.
How are aerial drones used in various industries?
A brief flight of a drone can yield millions of important data points. With the use of drones, companies can gather raster data from the sky in the form of geo-referenced digital aerial images characterized by their razor-sharp resolution. Companies can then process these resulting images using advanced photogrammetry software to deliver accurate topographic survey data and generate 3D point clouds, digital elevation models and orthophotos. All things considered, the time that drones save surveyors when it comes to data collection process means more time for analysis and development.
Because of the safer environments that drones create for workers, they are quickly replacing humans who had to be placed in dangerous locations, terrain or environments in order to gather critical data. Drones are being piloted into areas under oil rigs, along with power lines, over top oil and chemical spills and mine tailing ponds where they effectively gather survey-grade data, quickly while minimizing risk.
BP has used LiDar in its Alaska operations to help drivers stay on course in low-visibility conditions. LiDar-equipped drones can also provide an overhead view of pipeline conditions, alerting the company to areas damaged by icy conditions.
Shell is a company employing Aerial Drones in its operations, using them to monitor hard-to-reach areas. Drones allow the company to use a camera to check the status of places under an oil rig and other places where it may be dangerous to send people.
Inspecting Bridges for damage after an earthquake relies heavily on visual assessment from experienced field inspectors. Drones now take over that role and provide high definition imagery and data to those field inspectors offsite and out of harm’s way.
Inspection of Pipelines in Alaska proved a perfect scenario for Aerial Drones to demonstrate their capabilities. Regular aircraft flying that low in the unpredictable Alaskan winds, snow and ice posed a safety risk. UAVs armed with HD cameras are able to effectively fly low and offer consistent data collection despite the rugged and windy conditions.
AT&T is using drones to inspect cell towers, a move that could save lives. From 2013-2016 there were 34 communication tower-related fatalities.
Drones are used in data collection for management of wildfires. They offer a faster and safer alternative than having manned teams survey the area.
As the inception of drones started with its use in defense, it is the most important area even today where drones are used. But, technology has evolved much more. Now smaller and portable drones are being used by ground forces on a regular basis. Drones in the military are used mostly for surveillance and offensive operations.
As cameras can be mounted on drones they have now become lifesavers as well. Drones can be very useful during times of natural disaster for the surveillance of disaster-affected areas. After the consequences of natural disaster, UAVs can be used to assess damage, locate victims, and deliver aid. In certain circumstances, they are being used to prevent disasters altogether.
Aerial Drones are having a positive impact on the world by eliminating the risk to human lives and collecting valuable data in locations that are dangerous, toxic, or otherwise inaccessible.
The Bottom Line
Because of the many advantages of using drones in surveying dangerous locations, the setbacks that come with using drones become marginal. As more and more companies prefer drone technology over traditional surveying techniques, drones are seen to eventually change the way various industries survey lands, making the process much more accurate and efficient.
With the use of drones for land surveying, companies can minimize the risk associated to measuring dangerous sites such as mines, unstable slopes, and transport routes. Not to mention the high resolution digital aerial images that they produce, giving more versatility for topographical maps, heat maps and a lot more.
If this technology continues to grow in the coming years, industry leaders predict that companies will be able to have at least 60% cost savings in their land surveying processes compared with conventional survey techniques. Drones will also allow them to save time, leading to increased productivity. That means that large jobs that usually take weeks to collect data will only need just a matter of days to conduct surveys with drones, allowing them to handle more projects and focus their efforts on extrapolating data.
The catch, however, is that while drones are certainly changing the mapping and surveying industry, cost savings, safety and efficiency require ample preparation and will only work for companies that look to work smarter by doing more with less. Yes, drones have proven to be an excellent way to do more with less, but companies from different industries must first invest in drones before they see any of the benefits mentioned in this article.
Currently, drone technology is still in its infancy. But while its applications today are largely military in nature, people will eventually witness how drones multiply, advance, become increasingly integrated with various planning technologies, and ultimately offer some of the world’s most dangerous and labour-intensive industries their unparalleled farseeing abilities.