Inspections: Man vs Drone who wins?

We automatically assume that new technology must be better, right? When it comes to inspections it has to be worth challenging whether high tech delivers a better solution than a variety of manual inspections. Surely direct visual inspection is going to yield better results than looking at a second hand image? Well yes and no, absolutely having the right technology and equipment can be massively beneficial but on the other hand it will always require the human input to identify where the issues are.

Nevertheless there are two main big advantages of using UAVs to assist with inspections. These are essentially to do with access and data. So who wins the battles when it comes to

  • Access
  • Safety
  • Imaging
  • Weather Conditions

Reaching the parts others can't reach

With the help of scaffolding, cherry pickers, ladders, ropes and so on personnel can of course access infrastructure such as bridges, radar domes, wind turbines, solar panels BUT this generally requires a great deal of planning, possibly equipment hire, specialist contractors, and the accompanying risk assessments. The personnel most suited for reaching these awkward areas are also not necessarily those best suited to assessing the information they find.

 

A UAV can in a matter of moments access infrastructure and feedback real time images to qualified personnel safely located on the ground. The speed of access should not be underestimated, as time is inevitably money. If a problem area can be more readily located then repair or maintenance can be set in motion immediately.

Man vs. drone ease of access: the drone wins!

What about safety? Using a UAV minimises the risk to personnel as no climbing or high rise equipment is required. Of course manual access may be necessary to fix damage or clean a facility but if surveys or inspections can be carried out remotely difficult or dangerous work is reduced.

Man vs drone safety: another win for the drone.

Ok but surely the quality of information can’t be as good as a direct visual inspection? Again the UAV has its advantages because it is not limited to only one way of seeing things. A variety of different sensing equipment can be mounted on a UAV ranging from an ordinary camera(equating to a manual visual inspection) to thermal imaging equipment (ideal for identifying damaged solar panel or stress points)  and also multispectral cameras and LIDAR equipment for mapping areas of concern for example. Furthermore because this data is captured it can be manipulated safely on the ground in a variety of ways ultimately improving overall knowledge regarding the condition of an asset.

Again in man vs drone with its additional visual imaging capabilities the drone or UAV is a winner every time.

Surely there must be limitations to UAV use where current techniques still prevail?

The honest answer is of course yes. Using a UAV to its full potential requires skill and like any business the type and quality of equipment will vary and it is not all of the same standard or durability. To maximise the imaging potential requires considerable investment in imaging equipment and highly skilled pilots. Investment is needed in terms of hours flying to skill up the pilot with even the best pilots still benefiting from further technological aids such as object avoidance software.

However it is probably the weather that is the main enemy of the UAV. Wind and rain may make manual inspection unpleasant but it can still go ahead however drones unfortunately face certain restrictions, mainly from wind which can in some circumstances prevent flying. So careful planning is required with respect to the weather.

This is one battle man will almost always win, adverse weather is the UAVs enemy

In all seriousness though assessing whether UAV technology will offer benefits comes down to the specifics of the job. The main advantages of a UAV for, in particular all forms of infrastructure inspection are that they are generally: 

  •          Quicker
  •          Cheaper
  •          Safer
  •          Obtain better quality data

My opinion is obviously biased as I am surrounded by the latest UAV technology and am continually surprised by the developments in capability. If you disagree with this view why not contact me at sue.mckinney@raaltd.co.uk , I am always happy to talk drones! Or was that drone on?!