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Top 3 Challenges in Autonomous Drone Inspection

Discussing the factors involved with building a successful drone inspection program

June 20, 2023

Drone technology has advanced rapidly, enabling fully autonomous asset inspection.This progress has the potential to revolutionize routine inspections for critical facilities such as pipelines, transmission lines, and chemical plants.  

However, the implementation of fully autonomous drone inspections faces notable challenges that need careful consideration when seeking partnerships in this field. Therefore, it is crucial to thoroughly assess potential collaborators and their approaches to surmounting these three principal obstacles. By undertaking such an evaluation, organizations can guarantee the seamless integration of autonomous drones into their inspection procedures, thereby unlocking unparalleled efficiency and precision in asset management. This article details the top three challenges we see when implementing comprehensive autonomous drone inspections.

BVLOS Authorization

In the realm of commercial drone operations, following the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) regulations is required. Currently, all commercial operations have a need for a certified remote pilot under the FAA Part 107 certification, who maintains control over the drone throughout the entire flight. However an additional restriction mandates that the pilot must control the drone at all times during the flight. The pilot also has to see the drone all the time. This limits how far the drone can go and how effective it can be.

To solve the problems associated with Visual Line-of-Sight (VLOS), and fly Beyond Visual Line-of-Sight (BVLOS), operators must apply for an FAA Waiver. However getting this waiver is not easy. It involves giving a lot of details about the equipment we use, explaining how we operate, and showing how we will keep things safe. These requirements make sure that BVLOS operations follow strict safety rules and manage risks well.

While there is ongoing consideration within the FAA regarding the restructuring of BVLOS regulations, it is important to recognize that the current requirements will likely remain in place for the foreseeable future. This underscores the significance of comprehensive planning, meticulous record-keeping, and strict compliance when pursuing BVLOS drone operations. As the industry evolves, it is crucial for operators to remain informed about any updates or modifications to these requirements.

Flying drones beyond the pilot's sight can change a lot of industries, like infrastructure inspections and deliveries. It opens up new possibilities for longer flights, covering more areas, and making operations more efficient. Until the rules change, it is required to follow the current requirements and work hard to get the necessary waivers.

Overall, selecting a provider that is equipped with a robust strategy for handling Beyond Visual Line-of-Sight (BVLOS) operations and regulations is crucial for the smooth implementation of an autonomous drone inspection program.

Mission Control and Data Integration

When it comes to providing an autonomous drone inspection program, it is critical for a service provider to have a well-defined plan for addressing key aspects such as task management, remote piloting, and data acquisition from the drone. Additionally, the provider must consider the seamless integration of their solution with existing enterprise systems, which often involves navigating the complexities of various software packages.

Managing tasks efficiently is crucial for smooth and effective inspections. There needs to be a plan that explains how we assign, track, and monitor tasks throughout the whole process. This includes deciding which tasks are most important, scheduling inspections, and dealing with unexpected situations. Good task management helps us be more productive, reduces delays, and makes sure inspections happen on time.

Remote piloting plays a crucial role in controlling and maneuvering the autonomous drone during inspections. The provider's plan should outline how they will remotely operate the drone, ensuring safe and accurate navigation. This involves addressing aspects such as establishing reliable communication channels with fail-safe mechanisms, and training remote pilots on the specific requirements of that autonomous drone system. A well-defined remote piloting strategy guarantees that the drone can perform inspections efficiently while maintaining safety standards.

Data acquisition is another critical aspect that requires careful consideration. The provider's plan should encompass the methodologies and technologies they will employ to gather, process, and analyze the data collected by the drone during inspections. This includes selecting appropriate sensors, establishing data transmission protocols, and implementing data storage and management systems. By capturing high-quality data and leveraging advanced analytics, the provider can deliver actionable insights to their clients, which leads to informed decision-making and management.

Making sure that the solution works well with the client's existing software is also crucial. The provider will need to explain how we will integrate the drone systems with the client's software for managing assets, reporting, and visualizing data. This can be a bit tricky to make different software work together smoothly, so is it necessary to plan carefully, test everything well, and communicate effectively with the client's IT department.

Housing and Charging

When it comes to providing an autonomous drone inspection system, having a well-defined plan for housing and charging the fleet of drones is of utmost importance. This aspect is critical for ensuring the readiness and availability of drones, as well as their protection from environmental elements and potential security risks. Moreover, the concept of drone enclosures and the emerging technology of "drone-in-a-box" play significant roles in addressing these requirements effectively.

First, we need to have a plan for keeping the drones safe. We need to have dedicated spaces where we can store the drones when they're not in use. These spaces protect the drones from bad weather like rain, wind, or extreme temperatures that could damage them. They also keep the drones safe from being damaged or stolen by someone who shouldn't have them.

Furthermore, charging the fleet of drones is a crucial aspect that demands careful consideration. Providers must have a plan in place to establish a robust charging infrastructure for the autonomous drone system. This includes strategically located charging stations within the drone enclosures, equipped with the necessary power supply and charging mechanisms. The plan should outline procedures for routine maintenance, battery management, and timely charging cycles to ensure that the drones are always ready for deployment.

When we provide an autonomous drone inspection system, we need to have a plan for where to keep the drones and how to charge them. This is really important to make sure the drones are ready to use, safe from bad weather, and protected from theft. There are also some cool new ideas like having a special box for the drone that takes care of everything.

First, we need to have a plan for keeping the drones safe. We need to have dedicated spaces where we can store the drones when they're not in use. These spaces protect the drones from bad weather like rain, wind, or extreme temperatures that could damage them. They also keep the drones safe from being damaged or stolen by someone who shouldn't have them.

Charging the drones is also important. There needs to be a plan for having places to charge the drones. This means having charging stations in the spaces where we keep the drones. We need to make sure these stations have enough power and the right equipment to charge the drones correctly. We also need to have plans for taking care of the drones' batteries, doing regular maintenance, and charging the batteries on time so the drones are always ready to go.

The concept of "drone-in-a-box" takes the idea of housing and charging drones to the next level. This refers to having a special system inside the storage space that lets the drones land, charge, and take off again without needing a person to help. These systems have a lot of advanced features like checking the weather, detecting obstacles, and even watching what's happening remotely. Using a "drone-in-a-box" system helps us automate things, work in remote areas, and be ready to do inspections all the time.

Drone enclosures have evolved beyond providing physical protection for drones in inspection or surveillance settings. They now possess advanced capabilities to gather data and operate on the edge, enabling real-time analysis of drone activities and operations. Equipped with onboard sensors, cameras, and edge computing capabilities, the enclosure captures and analyzes data during drone flights. It can monitor flight patterns, assess environmental conditions, detect anomalies, and even perform basic data analytics on-site. This allows for immediate insights and decision-making, reducing the reliance on external processing and enhancing the efficiency of inspection or surveillance missions.

Having a good plan for where to keep the drones and how to charge them has many benefits to an inspection operation. It keeps the drones safe from bad weather and theft. It also helps us work efficiently by having good charging stations, less downtime, and always-ready drones. Using "drone-in-a-box" systems helps to automate things, work in remote areas, and expand what we can do with the system.

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