Drones: From Toys to Tools

14 July 2020 | Oil, Gas & Engineering

Drones have become an important tool in the oil/gas and engineering sector.  In just a few short years drones have gone from toys to powerful scanning tools used to collect data over construction sites, right of ways, critical infrastructure, landfills, superfund sites, and just about any asset that may require inspection.  At first everyone was caught staring up at these buzzing aircraft, but now they fit into the workflow like any other tool on the belt.

Industry leaders have embraced the technology at a fairly slow pace due to safety concerns.  Of course, this is justifiable when you consider potential risks when flying over sensitive assets.  Over time though, drones have proven safe and effective when flown by pilots who understand the often dirty and dusty environments they must navigate.  Checklists for safety and constant risk mitigation must come first when working for industrial clients.  One factor that increases safety is automation.  Semi-autonomous flight patterns can be programmed by the pilot in order to reduce human error while also providing more consistent data to the client.  With current regulations drones must be visible to the pilot but one day we expect to place drones on a site where they will wake up and go to work at preset times.  When they return to their home they upload the data collected and start charging for the next work cycle.

Engineering data comes in many forms.  From simple documentation photographs illustrating a time lapse of a project site to photogrammetric and LiDAR scans to create a digital twin of a site, the data can be critical to keeping a project on time while also giving GIS and computer modeling professionals nearly real time data for verification, 2D and 3D measurements, and progress reporting.  Another powerful dataset comes in the form of thermal.  By flying a thermal infrared sensor over assets when conditions are ideal the data collected can be used to find areas of heat loss as well as water intrusion and potential electrical hardware failures before they occur.  Needless to say, seeing what is invisible to the human eye brings decision making to a whole new level.  A recent thermal scan of a new hospital building found 17 areas where water was entering the membrane of the roof!  Water damage is a serious concern and without the thermal scan interior damage to millions of dollars of equipment could be extensive.  It takes a trained thermographer to translate the collected imagery to actionable data so Skyfire invested in this sector in 2019.

Skyfire’s industrial department provides drone services to the oil/gas industry as well as construction companies and contractors.  We also provide emergency response services for clients who need aerial support at a fraction of the cost of manned aircraft.  Skyfire industrial is also focused on a test program where we will be flying hydrogen powered drones with over 2 hours of flight time for an oil and gas transport company to inspect their right of ways with multispectral cameras.  With Skyfire’s FAA regulatory expertise we aim to automate this process and by beyond line of site in the future.