News

The utility industry has taken tentative steps to enter a new era of technologically-driven opportunities – along with its challenges – with the use of Unmanned Aerial Systems (also known as drones).


Electric, gas, and water utilities are increasingly interested in taking advantage of the capabilities of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to support their operations. Applications for UAS are numerous and include maintenance inspections, surveying right-of-way, evaluating asset restoration, and in the construction of power lines and plants.


It is through autonomous commercial drones that utilities are changing the way they inspect and survey generation facilities, transmission and distribution infrastructure, and terrain by enabling the rapid, repeatable and safe collection of high-resolution imagery. Some are using UAS for Visual Line-of-Sight (VLOS) applications, such as the provision of substation aerial views. Others are actively investigating the use of UAS to inspect transmission towers and power lines as an alternative to costly and potentially more dangerous helicopter deployment.


Many utilities use the capabilities of the UAS to supplement inspection operations performed by line crews, such as power line and substation inspections, and during routine vegetation maintenance. UAS are also uniquely suited to assess damage to utility infrastructure in the aftermath of natural disasters, such as a flood, tornado or hurricane. Utility maintenance and outage restoration efforts are greatly enhanced by using many kinds of smart technologies and drones are a key piece of this new story.


However, for utilities to take full advantage of the promise drones can offer they need to be able to operate them Beyond VLOS (BVLOS).


Securing authority to operate BVLOS is a critical step for utilities where in many countries the use of drones is either not allowed or is highly restricted. With utility lines and pipes spread over thousands of meters and across various terrains, BVLOS drones are more efficient and can complete inspections more economically, safely and faster than traditional means (typically helicopters and inspection ground crews).


BVLOS drones, equipped with cameras and Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) sensors, capture imagery that only a few years ago needed an aircraft, large sensors and a crew to accomplish. Today drones with sophisticated software can process the LiDAR images very quickly in cloud-based platforms so effective decisions can be made by stakeholders and relevant parties. It is, therefore, understandable that utilities are increasingly attracted to this gamechanging technology.


Asset inspection and maintenance


North American electric utilities are particularly eager to use drones to mitigate hazardous, time-consuming and expensive work of inspecting remote, often dangerous power lines and transmission towers. In one example, the New York Power Authority (NYPA) has partnered with a Canadian utility on drone inspection between Lake Erie and the Niagara River in an effort to make repairs that are quicker, safer, more environmentally friendly and considerably less expensive.


Solar power plants are also seeing a high rate of drone use. Drones give operations teams a birds-eye-view of the solar field with sensors outside of the visible light spectrum allowing the utility or IPP to find hot spots in a solar field. This allows much more efficient maintenance when looking for the panels that need replacing. Ultimately, this results in a more efficient solar field, with more proactive maintenance versus the more traditional approach of testing each panel on a maintenance schedule.


Another example is wind turbine drone inspection, which is set to be a billion-dollar industry in the next 10 years. Advances in operational intelligence (OI) technology as well as easing regulations will certainly help to accelerate this growing trend in utilities around the world.


Disaster recovery and outage restoration


While drones can help with the routine maintenance needs of utilities, they also have a place in disaster response and damage assessment. Drones can be quickly deployed in the event of natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes and fires, in order for utilities to get a sense of the damage to utility infrastructure, potential hazards such as blocked roads and unsafe bridges, and where repairs are needed most.


This allows utilities to dispatch the right number of ground crews to the right places, with the correct equipment and knowledge to make the necessary repairs and stay safe while doing so.



21/12/2017

Read full article


Last year at this time, I reflected back on the news and trends of the commercial drone markets of 2016 and wrote about the mixed state of affairs ahead for 2017. Throughout the year, I offered my perspective on how the drone industry was still motivated by hype and how assessing forward momentum required hard data on the performance of the various sectors of the industry. To that end, we did research over the summer that surveyed 2,600 respondents on drone purchases, service providers, business users, and software services. In September, we published the data in 2017 Drone Market Sector Report 2017.


In this post, I’ll use that data to illustrate the major trends of the past year and describe what I think are the major challenges ahead for the drone industry.


Trend 1—Growth


By all measures, the drone industry in 2017 was marked by significant growth – growth in aircraft sales, software licenses, the number of service businesses entering the market, and the number of industrial businesses setting up commercial operations.


Here are a few statistics:


We project U.S. sales in 2017 to be about 3.3M units, which is 36% above 2016 figures. That’s all drones, all sizes. It’s about 1.3M units for the >250gram category.

As of October 31st, there were about 837,000 hobbyist users and 107,000 non-hobbyist drones registered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

As of December 1st, there were about 66,000 Part 107 FAA Pilots.

This represents a big change in the commercial market since Part 107 regulations supplanted Section 333 as the means for commercial operations in the U.S. What this and our survey data tells us is the number of service providers currently outpaces demand, and as a result, service prices are coming down significantly.


Trend 2—Consumerization


We said in our report that more consumer drones are being used for commercial work than ever before. For example, our data shows that more than two-thirds (68%) of all drones weighing over 250 grams are purchased for professional purposes—either governmental or business.


Why is this significant? Because the impact of consumer-originated technology on the enterprise is something that can’t be ignored. Enterprises want to take advantage of powerful, yet easy-to-use products (like DJI’s popular consumer models), and put them to work on the job. What this means for operators or businesses is that a shared core technology benefits all users and enables companies to scale the best experiences to everyone. Enterprise customers get the added simplicity and usability of the consumer product that has been built to meet the demands of thousands of customers around the world.  The average individual pilot gets to benefit from the reliability and scalability inherent in the product and demanded by enterprise users.


Trend 3—The DJI effect


Our data shows DJI is the clear market leader in drone aircraft sales and almost every software category. For example, DJI is the dominant brand for drone aircraft purchases, with a 72% global market share across all price points and an even higher share (87%) of the core $1,000–$1,999 price segment. Additionally, in the three categories of software we evaluated, DJI is the market-share leader in two: flight logging and operations, and automated mission planning.


This is significant because by building on top of its existing technology platform, DJI has fast-tracked development and has benefited from economies of scale. By migrating a successful technology stack and feature set up market, DJI never has to reinvent the wheel—it just needs to improve upon the original design and save engineering cycles for real innovation.


The upshot is that, to stay relevant, all the other major vendors have had to partner with DJI (see Trend 5 Partnerships, below). DJI’s sales success has taken market share from others and has led to layoffs at 3DR, Autel, GoPro, Parrot, and Yuneec. However, fears about data security remain. And this has some speculating about whether DJI can sustain its leadership role in the future.


Trend 4—Investments


According to CB Insights, investments shifted in 2017 from aircraft hardware to software. In 2016, there were 106 deals totaling $542M. Most of these were for hardware. In 2017, VCs focused on software, end-to-end solutions, and counter-drone technology. CB Insights projects the year will end with 110 deals totaling $494M. The most significant investment this past year was 3D Robotics’ $53M Series D round. It saw them pivot from hardware to software services.


Why is this significant?  Because it shows the industry is still maturing. Seed and Series A rounds represented 60% of all deals in 2017; whereas early-stage share peaked in 2015 at 73% of deals. Additionally some of the most well-funded drone companies are targeting enterprise and industrial inspection.


What this means for operators or businesses is greater affordability. Software advances, computer chip manufacturing techniques, and economies of scale will continue to drive down the cost of drone platforms and sensors and solutions.


Trend 5—Partnerships


This year we saw a change from synergistic merger and acquisitions to the creation of end-to-end solutions via partnerships. For example, look at how DJI’s enterprise partnerships have grown. Consider their AirWorks conference. What drone major vendor wasn’t there? The list included DroneDeploy, Measure, PrecisionHawk, Skycatch, and Sentera, to name a few.


This past year we also saw an uptick in regulators and industry stakeholder partnerships. For example, the Drone Advisory Committee was created to provide the FAA with advice on unmanned aircraft integration from a diverse group of stakeholders. Major commercial participants include Intel, DJI, Amazon, Google X, and Facebook, as well the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.



21/12/2017

Read full article


Inspection services are one of the most hyped and fastest growing verticals in commercial drones, with good reason.  When it comes to return on investment, the drones have it – saving large energy and infrastructure companies millions over conventional methods.  Now Intel and Cyberhawk have partnered on a major use case, one that demonstrates that return for the entire industry.


Intel introduced their Intel® Falcon™ 8+ system last year.  It’s an aircraft built to meet enterprise (and regulatory) requirements for safety, engineered for stability and featuring numerous built-in redundancies. Cyberhawk, as global leader in aerial inspection and surveying and a respected figure in the industry, was a perfect choice of partner to demonstrate the drone in action and the value of drone technology to the industry.


Inspecting a gas terminal in St Fergus, Scotland, the companies say that they were able to save the client $1 -$5 million per day,  while significantly reducing the risk to employees.


The return is so large because of the way these inspections are performed conventionally.  Inspectors have to climb structures with harnesses and cable equipment – and one glance at the towers involved is sufficient to grasp the inherent danger in the job.  In order for them to inspect the structure, it must be powered down.  That’s a long and costly process: one that not only takes time but has a high cost in lost production for the plant.


The Intel Falcon 8+ captured over 1,000 images in 1 -2 days.  A conventional inspection would have required a 3 man team to work for 3 days. “In the last 20 years that I’ve worked in the inspection industry, drones are the biggest single change we’ve seen to-date,” said Chris Fleming, Cyberhawk CEO.


“Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technologies allow for large and complex facilities to be inspected while in operation, capturing accurate and precise data to better inform business decisions on asset maintenance,” says a company press release. “Drones are an important tool for the oil and gas industry, and the Intel Falcon 8+ system delivers reliable performance and best-in-class safety, especially critical when faced with challenging environments or dangerous situations.”




11/12/2017

Read full article


With many mines maturing and productivity decreasing, the companies behind them are trying increasingly hard to maximize the value of their operations. It’s not an easy thing. It requires efficiently combining people, processes, and equipment, and mining companies have been scrambling to improve operational efficiency. However, it’s possible many of them are looking in the wrong place.


While many are perhaps understandably focusing on what they could do better on the ground as well as below the surface of the earth, not nearly enough of them are looking to the sky. They should, though. Automated unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, offer a versatile set of productivity advantages that are poised to revolutionize the mining industry.


A million uses for automated drones


Automated drones, such as those that have emerged thanks to leading manufacturers like Airobotics, boast a variety of impressive drone uses and are able to complete an entire mission, entirely on their own. They can take-off and land - without the intervention of a human pilot, both scheduled and on-demand - yet precise flying missions are just one feature of these automated drones. They can be equipped with a portfolio of sensors, cameras and corresponding analytics software in order to inspect assets, identify risks like gas or chemical leaks, create 3D maps of their environment, and even perform hands-on (rather, robotic-pincers-on) work in the field. All data capturing and processing can be completed without requiring human operators.


Further, leading automated drones can charge themselves, swap batteries if necessary, and even swap payloads and sensors, eliminating much of the maintenance work that goes into having an on-site drone. All told, automated drones eliminate the significant expense of human pilots as well as the delays associated with waiting for human operators when a drone needs to fly on-demand - precious minutes that are not only costly but can present a risk to human lives. This advanced technology offers benefits to a wide range of industries, very much including mining.


Digging deep on drone capabilities


In the mining industry, automated drones provide more efficient alternatives to traditional human-based approaches. For example, they can be deployed to conduct asset inspections, as they can quickly and safely reach areas that are difficult for humans to access. Or, automated drones could be used to quickly complete surveying or take measurements of stockpile volumes, to ensure a blast plan is being followed precisely, and to conduct essential inspections of haul roads.


However, beyond replacing traditional operations, automated drones also offer this industry unprecedented opportunities. For example, drones are increasingly being used for surveying and terrain mapping, as they can automatically render three dimensional maps and models based on a fly-over visual inspection. The simplicity of obtaining such detailed models surpasses anything that was previously possible, opening the door to unforeseen productivity solutions.


As important as improving business processes is for mining companies, perhaps the most important thing automated drones do at a mine site is provide emergency response capabilities. Whether it’s a potential incident at a blast site, at a haul road, or anywhere else, an automated drone can immediately launch and begin transmitting live footage of the incident, providing essential information to responders.


The advantages of autonomy


Mines and other industrial sites can be dangerous places, and human fatalities are not unheard of. Using automated drones for the most dangerous of tasks eliminates personal risk, and the possibility of emergencies and other productivity delays.



11/12/2017

Read full article


American Robotics, a drone developer specializing in agricultural automation, has unveiled unveiled its flagship product, the Scout, a self-charging, self-managing drone system capable of autonomously carrying out daily scouting missions.


American Robotics  in their release state that “By 2050, the world population is expected to grow to 10 billion. As a result farmers will need to increase food production by 70%. This issue, coupled with a reduction in arable land and the shrinking number of farmers across the globe, will require new tools to increase automation and efficiency in agriculture.”


The solution may enable some future agriculture remain outdoors rather than move it indoors. There are a number of significant technology firms looking at indoor agriculture techniques. While drone technology cannot address the issues of water and climate control, it can provide in depth crop analysis and the intelligence needed for efficient use of resources.


As AR notes, traditional scouting techniques, including first-generation and consumer drones, are inadequate at detecting plant stress early enough to offset the billions of dollars of lost yields. These methods are often time-consuming, complicated, and uneconomical. To improve agricultural decision-making, optimize inputs, and maximize yields,  automation must be delivered in a reliable industrial solution.


Scout delivers this automation in a turn-key package consisting of an autonomous drone with visual and multispectral cameras and a weatherproof drone station which handles housing, charging, data processing and data transfer. Once installed within a farmer’s field, it requires no manual intervention to plan, fly and manage the drone operations. Health reports and analysis are seamlessly sent to the farmer. The system has already been deployed in a range of agricultural locations across the United States this summer.


American Robotics is headquartered in MassRobotics in Boston, an emerging hub for robotics startups.



11/12/2017

Read full article


No one likes to think about worst-case scenarios—especially not in the context of a huge event with literally thousands of moving parts that have been aligned over months leading up to your show or exhibition. But if you’re expecting a crowd, you’re responsible for the safety of that crowd—and that means you’re responsible for planning and prevention of those worst-case scenarios.

Event planners are used to thinking about threats coming through the doors. We’ve got security in place, metal detectors, bag checks, perimeter barricades and on-site officers. But we’re less used to thinking about the threats introduced by the advent of unmanned aerial systems (UAS), and that needs to change.


A recent event in Japan demonstrated why drone security should be a fundamental part of event security planning. An overhead vehicle suddenly dropped into the crowd, injuring six people. In this case, injuries were minor, but they could have been significant. It’s only a matter of time before we see an incident where drones play a major role in injuring people gathered in a crowd—and we’re being warned about this likely event on several fronts. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security released its latest Terrorism Advisory on Nov. 9, warning about increased use of UAS by terrorist groups, and any gathering of a significant number of people represents a target.


Terrorist and malicious threats aside, anyone flying an unmanned system over a crowd represents a threat, and given the proliferation of drones and the lack of awareness about rules and regulations surrounding them, non-malicious incidents are on the rise as well.


In many cases the threats evolve inside the show—someone exhibiting sends up a drone to get an overhead shot of their booth, or an attendee decides to capture some video footage of the whole venue. In either case, if the proper waivers haven’t been secured and if the operators aren’t insured and licensed, you—as the show planner—incur a liability if something goes wrong.


There are several things event planners can do to protect their venues and events from the potential for a drone-related incident:


1.      If you are planning to hire drones to capture aerial footage of your event, ensure that the company/individual you hire is licensed and insured. If they are flying over a crowd, confirm that they’ve secured a waiver to do so—U.S. Federal Aviation Administration regulations prohibit flight over people. Know the rules—or better yet, bring in a specialist who knows the rules governing drone operation.


2.      Have a counter-UAS plan in place. From putting out pre-event publicity that your venue is a no-drone zone to on-site integration of an aerial observation and deterrent team, you should know how UAS might affect your event and how you’ll protect your crowd if one is identified. A good counter-UAS company will be able to integrate their teams directly with your show security center, and will implement defensive tactics when unauthorized drones are spotted—minimizing the chances of an incident.


3.      Work with local law enforcement to enforce regulations. Not all local law enforcement agencies are well versed in UAS regulations. They may not know all the rules, but integrating your counter-UAS partner with your local authorities will ensure that rapid and appropriate action is taken when an incident arises. Because UAS proliferation has been rapid and the threat is relatively new, your counter-UAS team should be prepared to educate on-site authorities where necessary.


Part of the challenge is education. Any time a new technology is introduced, innovation can outpace awareness, and that’s certainly been the case with drones.


While there are companies who will suggest that they can “shoot down” any unauthorized UAS, or “jam” them, be wary. Counter-UAS should be part of your plan, but these types of drastic actions should only be employed when all other options are exhausted.



08/12/2017

Read full article


It’s almost eerie. The first time you hear it approach, if you’re like my neighbor Ernesto, you may think it’s a bumblebee – or, to be more precise, the aggressive solitary bees called ronsapas that inhabit stumps of dead wood and defend their territory by way of nasty stings. From a jungle perspective, you’d surely be forgiven for hitting the deck or breaking into a run when the sound first reaches your ears – that characteristic buzzing hum.

It may not surprise you to learn that in our almost unbelievably technology-saturated, increasingly globalized world, even rainforest farmers know exactly what that sound is – a drone. Call it tech appeal, or the stereotypical gadget fixation of the grown-up boys of the world, but drones are just about everywhere these days, including in the Amazon of Peru.

Over the course of the last 15 months, Camino Verde has had the opportunity to put these instruments to valuable and surprisingly varied use – and save an incredible amount of work at the same time.

Consider this: Last year, our Reforestation Center team, under farm manager Olivia Revilla and with the help of several interns, set out on an ambitious mission to document the trees we’ve planted. That totals around 50 acres of trees, tens of thousands of trees, representing our reforestation efforts of the last 10 years and the tangible manifestation of our donors’ commitment to Amazon restoration.

As you can imagine, making a map that includes every single tree and keeping track of basic data for each – such as species, botanical family, height, diameter at breast height, etc. – was an incredibly time-consuming task, a labor of love aimed at helping us better measure our impact. Months of work later, we had our first map for wide swathes of the farm – though not the whole planted area.

We celebrated this first achievement and prepared ourselves mentally for the work involved in finishing the task. It was right around that time, as we were contemplating methodologies to improve our efficiency for this arduous data collection, that a small group of Wake Forest University students paid us a visit and flew a drone over the reforestation center for the first time ever. The images captured were incredible. It was frankly breathtaking to see the trees from above – to see how clearly the mixed agroforestry systems we plant resemble the wild forest.

Given the meteoric rise of drone technology, maybe it doesn’t come as a surprise to learn that in the following months, there were many more drone flyovers to come. Our friends from Pacha Soap paid us a visit in February and captured breathtaking video of one of the largest, most impressive trees in 200 acres of primary rainforest areas we protect. And then Wake Forest’s Centro de Innovación Científica Amazónica (CINCIA) research group – our staunch allies in reforestation and restoration activities in Madre de Dios, Peru – returned and flew again.

To my amazement, after the last of these visits, we were presented with a map that the drone had made for us. By taking pictures of the ground at regular intervals and using software to stitch the images together, we got a better and more detailed map than from satellite or GPS. Beautifully photographic, the map showed us our trees as they appeared from above. And further, it did the work of months of hand data collection in the span of a day.

As you may know, Camino Verde values monitoring and evaluation, which means we follow up on the trees we plant so that we can say clearly and unequivocally what our impact has been. Drone technology is allowing us to greatly reduce the time and energy we spend on this necessary activity – so we can spend more time on our real work, our real passion, the planting of trees.



08/12/2017

Read full article


Drone videographers just got some new tools.  PolarPro has expanded their library of video editing solutions with Helios Cinematic Light Effects.


The Helios Cinematic Light Effects software includes 32 drag-and-drop lens flares, light leaks, leads and transitions. “These simple-to-use effects can easily be dropped into any video composition to help streamline post production workflow,” says PolarPro.  “With effects ranging from light leaks and lens flares to light transitions, Helios offers a variety of colors, styles and looks to that can easily fit the mood of any video edit.”


Retailing at about $30, the new software is available for any drone videographer – and as it is compatible with most video editing platforms (Adobe® products such as Premiere 9.0 or later, After Effects CC or later, as well as Apple® Final Cut Pro 7 or later, and the Avid Media Composer) the system is available to operators with a wide range of experience.  (PolarPro has compiled a video tutorial for beginners here.)


“Featuring 11 flare effects, eight organic light leaks, and 13 light leads/transitions, Helios offers a wide range of 4K elements that can quick help pilots and post production teams refine their video edits to a fine production quality,” says PolarPro.  The Helios Cinematic Light Effects have been optimized for the lens profiles of the Mavic Pro and Phantom Pro 4 and Advanced, and PolarPro is planning to expand on that library soon. “With the effects properly optimized for each drone’s native camera, editors can easily splice together footage from multiple flight platforms without concerns for distracting color shifts,” says the company.



08/12/2017

Read full article


For the first time, drones were used to inspect all 264 turbine blades across the 88 offshore locations at Sheringham Shoal wind farm

Sheringham Shoal, operated by Statoil, a key player in the UK’s offshore wind sector, partnered with Martek Aviation to carry out the inspections. Using 200 UAS, the drones took eight minutes each to collect the relevant data. This allowed Statoil to instantly assess the condition of their assets on site.

“Martek Aviation is a professional company providing world-class wind turbine inspection services,” says Dale Symonds, Senior Engineer at the Sheringham Shoal offshore wind. “The UAS high-resolution camera has allowed us to perform excellent quality inspections on all turbine blades providing us with confidence and clarity. The service has allowed us to become more efficient, safe and profitable with our wind turbine inspections moving forwards.

Due to the advancements in UAS technology, the challenges faced with traditional inspection methods are being transformed into a safer and more streamlined data collection process. Previously, blade turbine inspections were performed from the ground using a simple camera for visual inspections or by risky human rope access. The use of drones has removed the requirement to climb the turbine by flying from the 40-meter vessel.



08/12/2017

Read full article


The best real estate agents know that presentation is key in attracting serious buyers. And the bigger the property, the more ambitious the marketing plan needs to be. Today’s savvy buyers do their research online before they even pick up the phone to call an agent.


Any agent working to sell a luxury property makes significant upfront investments in professional photography in order to have the kind of “glamour shots” that attract buyers’ interest. The interiors may have looked beautiful, but other selling points, like landscaping, outdoor features or vast acreage, have historically been harder to capture. Some agents would hire helicopters to hover over properties in order to get aerial shots-- and choppers certainly aren't cheap.


Today, technology has made it possible to capture amazing Hi-Def images hiring a manned aircraft. You can create an immersive virtual experience that gives potential buyers the option to tour a property without ever leaving their house. Recent changes to rules governing the use of small unmanned aircrafts – or drones – have made it possible for real estate professionals to use them for photographic purposes.


Many hobbyists in the U.S. already fly drones. But that doesn’t mean you can just go out, buy a drone and start filming properties from the air. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) governs the use of drones for commercial purposes. And because the FAA is a federal agency, the rules are strict. So before you run out and spend $1,200 on a drone of your own, you need to educate yourself. 

Once you have obtained certification, there's a host of operational rules you must learn and observe. While drones can be flown indoors or outdoors to highlight all the best features of a property, they must be flown in daylight hours. There are insurance considerations and state and local privacy rules that must be observed; there are limitations on height and radius, and on speed. You must register your drone, and file a preflight plan.


And then, of course, you need to learn how to actually fly the drone — and how to get the best pictures possible while doing so.



08/12/2017

Read full article