Building inspections can be complex tasks that need to be completed on a regular basis. With the rise of autonomous drone technology, inspections are becoming safer, faster, and more precise, and they also enable monitoring of infrastructure changes over time.
The continued development of autonomous drone capabilities is reducing human error and helping to make inspections more efficient. They enable repeated inspections in dynamic environments, making it easier to monitor infrastructure changes over time.
Automation has proven successful in the field of drone inspections. Drone automation levels are defined similarly to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's definition of self-driving cars; the scale ranges from Level 0 to Level 5, with Level 5 indicating full autonomy.
In general, it was concluded that the technology is currently between Level 3 and Level 4 and requires significant pilot control. Reaching Level 5 will be challenging due to many concerns about regulations, traffic conditions, safety, security and privacy.
A large number of research works related to autonomous inspection based on computer vision and artificial intelligence have been published recently. Research is divided into two main areas, 1. Design of autonomous flight plans and 2. Automatic data extraction.
Technology factors driving the development of more autonomous inspection include automated path planning, collision avoidance, simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM), onboard processing units capable of processing data in near real-time, and advances in deep learning. As a result, these drones use software that determines the optimal flight path and processes the data to build an accurate model.
Infrastructure inspection operations have improved significantly as drones have developed greater autonomous capabilities over the past few years. The company is even deploying multiple drones at once to further reduce data collection time.
In general, using drones for inspections can reduce time, assess risks in advance, improve repeatability and reliability of measurements, and improve situational awareness. Overall, the main advantages proved to be time, safety, cost, reliability and adaptability.
Infrastructure inspection is one of the top five applications of drones. Most drones these days rely on camera sensors and 4k video, but some also rely on lidar. Industries such as oil and gas, industrial, energy and construction already use or plan to use autonomous drone technology for inspection, monitoring and maintenance. In civil infrastructure there are many advanced applications such as the inspection of wind turbines, bridges, aircraft, industrial tanks, cranes and towers.
Although autonomous drones bring many benefits, there are still some challenges that need to be solved.
Autonomous drones can complete inspections of large-scale and complex infrastructure in a short time, preventing inspection personnel from entering dangerous areas and reducing the risk of accidents. Autonomous drones can also digitize the acquired data and generate detailed reports and analysis results, improving the utilization value and management efficiency of the data.
The challenges with autonomous drones come depending on your location and purpose of flying. Some common challenges involve weather conditions, accessibility, weight and regulations.
These cutting-edge drone trends are shaping the future of civilian infrastructure inspections. Swarms of drones for inspections, better performance in GNSS-denied environments, and the use of augmented reality are some of the major developments currently being researched. This will open the door to new opportunities for industry and commerce.