Changing the mindset of utility companies, one drone flight at a time
It’s obvious that drones or UAVs have swept the world as we know it coming from largely classified military missions to our homes. For couple of years now companies are profiting from sales of drones (there already were 1.1 million drones in the market in 2016), as well as looking deeper into ways these machines can be used. While tech giants are testing their missions ranging from product delivery to taxi services, companies across the globe already utilize UAVs in gas, railway and power grid sectors, changing old habits conservative companies have developed over the years.
According to ABI Research, this year the European commercial drone market revenue reached over $88 million, while the global commercial UAV market is valued at $1.8 billion, says Global Industry Analysts. Despite widely spread drone popularity amongst film makers and media agencies, industry experts predict the highest growth of UAV usage in agriculture and utilities.
Actually, the latter is set to experience a boost as number of UAV companies in the sector will grow significantly causing the market value to double over the following 5 years. What drives this upward trend is the old habits of power grid, railway and gas line operators that have been in place for decades, that are about change dramatically, explains Mantas Vaskela, CEO of UAV operator Laserpas.
“Just imagine that in today’s modern world, almost all of the power grids are inspected by conducting actual walks along the power lines in order to perform their inspection. An average power grid company owns over 100 000 km of lines, which makes it close to impossible to inspect the entire grid without any human errors and in line with all of the regulations at all times. Using such inaccurate data, reconstruction and maintenance plans are then drawn,” says M. Vaskela. “We can tell from our previous experiences that they are often not even close to reality.”
The European company uses specially equipped UAVs to capture and portray full and accurate picture of infrastructure. After acquiring the drone base, Laserpas then rigs the machine with optic and LIDAR sensors, high-speed cameras and other state-of-the-art technology. The collected data allows company’s engineers to develop orthophotos and a 3D model, which in turn gives the client all-round picture of its assets, illegal buildings that appeared next to it as well as dangerous trees or other vegetation.
In a recent inspection, the company has stunned its client, revealing over 50 km of undocumented power lines and 58 illegal building alongside its grid, let alone the dangerous vegetation. In fact, vegetation accounts for 30% of all of the power cuts worldwide – trees hanging close to the lines, bushes growing closer on to the railways. These and similar cases and how to avoid them were presented during Laserpas’ CEO keynote at this year’s edition of RailTech – one of the largest railway conference and exhibition in the continent.
“It’s a huge challenge to try and completely alter the mindset of the companies that have been in business for decades and have been doing their maintenance the same way for years. Nonetheless, we have already managed to do so with our clients and believe that this practice will catch on,” comments Mantas Vaskela. “Using UAVs eliminates the physical inspection, allowing companies to save up to $40 per kilometer of power lines or railway, let alone the shortened period of inspection itself. However, what really matter is that the decision makers have real and complete view of their infrastructure. It’s a tool that enables to plan upgrades, repairs, as well as to preempt any incidents. It’s a new way to manage your assets precisely and effectively, who wouldn’t want that?”