When presented with a drone inspection solution, many prospective customers wonder how this particular type of solution will work in practice and what benefits it will bring. Many often wonder whether they’ll need to purchase a drone or if they should train someone to fly it in house. With the fast growth of the commercial drone industry, it can be hard to choose between providers and their offerings.
A drone inspection is a service with one key objective: to provide accurate, relevant aerial intelligence that helps enterprises make important decisions about their sites. The term “drone inspection” is typically used as a blanket term for multiple applications, in fact; drones are used to capture data for planning, surveying, engineering, and modelling across a wide range of industrial use cases.
Because of the wide range of possibilities with drone inspections, it’s important to choose the right provider that meets your specific site’s needs. A successful drone inspection solution is based on four key pillars. Some providers will be able to tackle all 4, others will only be able to provide a couple. Therefore, it is of great importance for you to consider how you want your solutions managed and whether you need to work with one or multiple vendors.
These are the actual tools used to capture the data required for the operation. Depending on the images to capture and the site to survey, the technical requirements may vary and certain types of drones will be best suited for it. Some operations will require ground control points, real time kinematic (RTK), and/or thermal cameras. In other cases, the setup is much simpler; therefore, it is important to work with a provider that understands what will work in a specific context. The majority of drone inspection providers work with hardware developed by established industry leaders, for example, DJI. Other providers develop their own hardware in-house as a tool to deliver the solution. What matters the most to you in this particular requirement is that the equipment matches the actual inspection objective of your site.
This is the qualified pilot who will make sure to capture the aerial intelligence your site requires. Pilots need to have both the technical flight expertise as well as experience with the specific type of inspection you want to have in order to anticipate any issues that may arise. Some drone inspection providers work with dedicated staff, others sub-contract. Depending on which part of the chain they manage, a drone solution provider may only provide the hardware and software, leaving the finding of the pilot to you, the customer. It is important for you to work with a provider, whether it's an end-to-end service provider or an independent pilot, who understands the requirements of your operation to maximize the quality of your data.
Here we are getting into the software side of a drone inspection. A skilled drone pilot with the right equipment will capture images based on the operation requirements. Pilots need to work with image processing software packages are able to verify data quality and process the images from a raw format into a consistent picture of the inspected site. This is a critical requirement to ensure quality data. A bad data input will result in a bad data output, so it's important that your provider works with software that ensures flight parameters align with the expected outcome of the operation. Some drone inspection providers specialize in providing this type of software only; other providers will tackle more stages of the workflow.
This is what distinguishes the small from the high end players. Once the image processing software captures the images and processes into data that can be analyzed, it goes into a business intelligence platform with the ability to convert the data into various types of models and thus create analysis and reports out of the data. Several drone inspection providers only focus on this side of the workflow, ensuring data as the real value of the solution. The potential downside is that the customer is still responsible to make sure the data acquisition is consistent and accurate.
But what does this all mean for your organization?
You can decide to work with various providers addressing different parts of the workflow or choose one that provides an integrated end-to-end solution. The advantage of the latter is the ease and convenience of working with a one-stop solution and the possibilities it may offer to seamlessly integrate with your own workflows. Whatever you choose, the key is to understand that your drone inspection solution is only as good as the quality of the data you are able to analyze and convert into actionable results.