BVLOS Waiver: Here’s What You Need to Know

How to Use Your Drone Beyond Visual Line of Sight

Many technological advances within the drone industry are limited in real-world applications, due solely to unfavorable regulations.

For example, in the United States, commercial drone pilots must always maintain a visual line of sight with any drone they are operating. While technology allows for flight well beyond this limit, such operation would be illegal without changing regulations.

A classic example of the negative impact of this regulation can be found in oil pipeline inspections. Pipelines extend for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles across vast landscapes.

Drones can cover these distances much more efficiently than humans can. However, under current regulations, operators are required to move every two-to-three miles in order to keep the drone within sight. Thus, the benefit of using the drone is not maximized.

Thankfully, if you’re willing to do the work, you can get a waiver from the FAA, or other airspace authorization body, to fly Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS).

While getting that waiver is possible, you’re more likely to be approved with expert help. Here’s what to know about the BVLOS waiver.

What is a BVLOS Waiver?

Each country has its own rules and regulations regarding a BVLOS waiver.

As an example, we will use the United States. Once a commercial drone pilot has a Part 107 license from the FAA, that pilot can begin flying … within the license’s limits.

 

Related: The Benefits of Part 107 Test Preparation Courses

 

Every remote pilot in command must operate the drone in a manner that allows them to see the drone and its orientation at all times. With a Part 107.31 Visual Line of Sight Aircraft Operation waiver, though, you can fly without having a visual fix on the drone.

For example, let’s assume that you’re flying your drone around a large, cylindrical storage tank at an oil refinery inspecting for signs of corrosion. If you only have a Part 107 license, you will need to walk around the tank as your drone inspects it, always keeping an eye on its location.

With a Part 107.31, you can let the drone fly behind the tank — out of your line of sight — and complete the task more quickly.

How to Get the BVLOS Waiver

The FAA has issued very few Part 107.31 waivers.

In fact, as of October 2020, only 61 have been approved. By comparison, the FAA has issued well over 4,000 waivers for flying at night.

Your hopes of getting a waiver will depend on the strength of your BVLOS waiver application. Given the low number of approved applications to date, you’ll want to consult an expert.

 

Related: UAS Night Operations – Are You Still in the Dark?

 

While there’s no template for a successful BVLOS waiver published by the FAA, successful applications have had a few common elements which you should include to increase your chances of approval.

Let’s break those elements down a bit.

 

Standard Operating Procedures

 

Standard operating procedures highlight the professionalism and experience inherent within your organization.

These should be well organized, and cover everything from onboarding and training to all aspects of drone operations in which you or your pilots participate. To increase your chances of success, make sure that your procedures include the type of work you are looking to accomplish with a BVLOS waiver.

 

C2 Equipment

 

Next, you’ll want to include a detailed explanation of your command & control (C2) equipment.

C2 is an essential part of the application. The FAA will want to know what transmitters you are using to control the drone, in great detail.

You’ll also need to identify the maximum range of your transmitter ,and how you plan to maintain control of the drone at all times. To do that, make sure to include information about the equipment’s FCC ID number, both on the ground control station and on the drone.

 

Flight Safety

 

Flight safety is perhaps the most critical section.

After all, you are requesting a waiver based on your assurance that operations will remain safe at all times. It’s best practice to have a well-developed mitigation plan for every reasonable situation which could arise.

That plan should include a synopsis on how you will detect and avoid collisions, or other dangers. This will be a significant focus of the approval process.

Ready to Apply?

Getting you BVLOS waiver is possible, but you’ve got some work ahead of you.

You’ll need to carefully construct a thorough application, which takes time, resources, and extensive knowledge of your use-case. Want to improve your chances? We’re here to help!

At Consortiq, our drone consultant team specializes in creating the right plan for your specific situation. Whether you need to fly at night, over people, or beyond your line of sight, we’ve helped companies around the world obtain specialized waivers in order to achieve their specific goals. We’re ready to help you get your drone safely into the sky.

And, we’ll train your team of pilots to ensure that you’re always within airspace & safety guidelines.

Would you rather just hire a team to go out and do the work for you? We do that, too!

Just complete the form below to get started with your risk-free consultation today!

 

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

Secure, but not safe?

The tension between firefighting drones and national drone security regulations.

It’s no secret that North America – and the west coast of the U.S. in particular – has had a particularly bad wildfire season this year.

As of September 29,  70 active fires have burned over 3.9 million acres across the United States, and evacuation orders across the west coast remain in place near 17 large fires.

And that’s just active fires. The US National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) reports that, to date, there have been 4,091 wildfires which have burned 7.4 million acres across the country.

That’s over 1 million more acres burned than the 10-year average. 

Although the ultimate solution to this problem likely lies in more sustainable housing development, better forest management, power infrastructure upgrades, and other regulatory and business measures, drones can play a critical role in mitigating some of the damage that forest fires cause.

Unfortunately, policymakers and drone operators haven’t yet figured out how to balance national security concerns with an optimally effective fire response.

What are drones doing to help forest fire responses?

Over the years, drones have come to play an important role in the detection, containment, and extinguishing of forest fires, primarily by providing firefighters with accurate data.

Equipped with LiDAR, infrared cameras, and other sensors, drones can map fire-prone areas and, in the event of a fire, capture data on fire spread/speed, heat concentration, smoke, and other variables, all of which can be combined to help predict where a fire will move next.

This helps decision-makers make more strategic choices on firefighting, and evacuation, and other response factors.

Where are they doing this?

All over the West.

But here are some examples:

  • In Colorado, firefighters are using drones to deploy “Dragon Eggs” —  small explosives that combat wildfires by eating up the wildfire’s fuel. 
  • Near the Big Hollow wildfire in Washington, the FAA granted pilots of Verizon subsidiary Skyward, a temporary waiver from September 23 to 25, that allows them to fly the Percepto Sparrow drone from their homes to inspect critical communications infrastructure. The waiver lets them do this 24 hours a day, with less than 3 miles of visibility, and no pilot or observer on site. 
  • The Los Angeles Fire Department has been using drones to go where flame retardant-dropping planes and helicopters can’t go since at least 2017.

So how are regulations getting in the way?

In January this year, the US Department of the Interior (DOI) grounded its 810-drone fleet and stopped procuring Chinese-made drones over concerns that information about critical infrastructure could be leaked to the Chinese government. 

This move was in alignment with the proposed American Security Drone Act of 2020, which seeks to ban federal departments and agencies from purchasing any commercial off-the-shelf drone or small unmanned aircraft system manufactured or assembled in China or other countries identified for national-security concerns. 

It would seem that security comes at a cost, however. An internal memo from the department’s Office of Aviation Services, leaked to The Financial Times, says the decision is hampering the DOI’s ability to fight wildfires.

Although technically DOI still allows its drones to be used for emergency situations like disaster monitoring, the memo suggests that decision has stymied necessary measures that would have equipped the fleet to effectively fight fires.

How so?

According to the memo, by the end of 2020,  the department will only have carried out 28 percent of the controlled burning it could have done had it followed through on its plan to purchase 17 new Ignis systems, which work with heavy-lift machines like DJI’s M600 Matrice and are used to start controlled fires

Without them, the internal memo says the department has had to either use aircraft manned by firefighters — putting lives at risk — or not carried out the burning at all.

“Denying the acquisition of UAS [drone] aerial ignition devices directly transfers risk to firefighters who must use manned aircraft to complete these missions rather than a safer option utilizing UAS,” the memo states.

Will this impact other federal agencies?

Quite possibly.

In letters written in September 2019 and obtained by The New York Times, Stephen L. Censky, the deputy secretary of the Department of Agriculture, told the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget that the agency had major concerns with the law.

Censky wrote that the American Drone Security Act would “severely impact the establishment, development and implementation” of the Agriculture Department’s drone program “to carry out our mission-crucial work.”

Surely there is another side to the story.

Absolutely.

While DJI has decried the move to ban Chinese drones as a “protectionist ploy to exclude successful competitors in favor of domestic suppliers that don’t exist,” and a threat to forest conservation, the decision to ban Chinese-manufactured drones was based on more than protectionism.


Federal officials have been saying that they are worried that DJI drones are sending data back to China as early as 2017, although DJI has firmly denied this accusation. In that same year, the Army banned its employees from using DJI products.

There seems to be a strong, bipartisan belief that the ban is necessary to prevent the Chinese government from seeing what the United States government is seeing through DJI drone flights.

What now?

While it may be too late to turn things around for the wildfires of 2020, if the act makes it through the legislative process, all is not lost for firefighting drone efforts.

On a federal level, it all comes down to whether or not it’s viable to replace the Chinese-manufactured drones in agency fleets with drones manufactured in the U.S. or an allied country.

Currently, the supply chain for materials and components does not support an adequately scaled production of comparable platforms in the United States.

For instance, the California startup, Skydio, makes its drones in the U.S. but still uses some Chinese parts. Its chief executive, Adam Bry, told the New York Times in February that all the core components were American, and that the company was moving away from using the Chinese parts altogether.

Similarly, Paris-based drone manufacturer Parrot is set to release its latest platform, ANAFI USA.

The drone is said to be manufactured in the U.S., and designed with the needs of first responders, firefighters, search-and-rescue teams, security agencies, surveying and inspection professionals, in mind. And, it has a sensor and software ecosystem that features 32x zoom, 4K HDR video, and thermal imaging capabilities. 

On a state and local level, things may be (for the time being at least) simpler.

The American Drone Security Act of 2020 doesn’t seem to prohibit procurement of Chinese-manufactured drones by non-federal agencies, meaning that the L.A. Fire Department, which has a strong working relationship with DJI and was looking to double its fleet of firefighting drones in 2019, will likely be able to carry on with their procurements and possibly use the pending legislation to pressure Chinese manufacturers to take greater measures to assure them of data security. 

Regardless of the fate and implication of the Drone Security Act of 2020, it highlights a tension between safety, security, and affordability, and shows that “drones for good” use cases are the product of difficult decisions and compromise. 

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn is an experienced management professional who is currently pursuing her master’s in Data, Economics, and Development Policy at MIT while serving as principal consultant at Consult92.

Miriam developed a love for UAS technology when she served as operations manager at Consortiq. Today, having completed over 30 successful projects in 10 countries, she loves solving a wide variety of logistical, technical, and cultural challenges for her clients so that they can focus on what care about most.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

How drones could prevent utility equipment from starting forest fires

The 2018 Camp Fire forest fires resulted in over $16 billion in damage, claimed 85 lives, and was recorded as the 13th deadliest wildfire in California’s state history.

According to state investigators, the fire started when a hook on a Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) electrical transmission tower (Tower 27/222) broke during heavy winds, dropping a wire which threw sparks into the dry brush below.

PG&E has received a lot of flack for failing to take basic precautions which would have likely prevented this catastrophe.

What do you mean?

For starters, the Caribou-Palermo transmission line – of which Tower 27/222 was a part – was originally built in 1921, meaning it was around 97 years old in 2018.

Despite owning the line since 1930, PG&E had not replaced much of the original hardware. State regulators claim that PG&E’s inspection and maintenance plan for the transmission line prior to the fire was “ineffective,” and a report by the Butte County District Attorney called PG&E’s reliance on outdated and under-inspected equipment “negligent and reckless.”

An obvious way for PG&E to protect its credibility, moving forward, would be to make a notable improvement in its inspection protocol.

I’m guessing this snapshot is going to have something to do with drone inspections.

That’s right.

But, let’s do an overview of what’s being inspected first.

PG&E operates over 5,000 miles of high-voltage wires in Califirnia’s drought-prone forests. To make matters worse, the Wall Street Journal analyzed PG&E’s 20 “worst performing lines,” and found that 16 of them are in high-risk fire areas.

The combination of failure-prone transmission lines in fire-prone areas is thought to be a significant and unacceptable hazard, and a recipe for a repeat of 2018.

Part of the solution is more frequent inspections, but many lines and towers are hard to reach, making those inspections and resulting repairs difficult. That’s where drones come in.

PG&E is upgrading its system inspections program by using drones, computer vision, and machine learning, to better detect problems before another fire is started. 

How do drone inspection solutions work?

In a nutshell, drones are deployed to gather data such as thermal imaging, LiDAR, and sometimes multispectral imaging, for critical infrastructure, such as distribution poles and transmission towers.

This generates terabytes and terabytes of data.

Computer vision and machine learning are then trained to classify this data and identify subtle deviations from the norm, such as the beginnings of corrosion or other damage to components.

This helps utility companies prioritize which components to replace or keep a close eye on before things get out of hand, as they did in the case of the Camp Fire.

How far along is PG&E’s program?

PG&E’s program — which has been in development since at least 2016 — is currently being used to predict how transmission equipment will handle high-wind events, to help operations staff prioritize maintenance work, and to help PG&E leadership decide whether to shut off power to a high-risk area during severe weather conditions.

Although high fire-risk areas are a top priority, the plan is to expand to lower risk areas and inspect over 15,000 miles of electrical lines in 2020.

What are the main benefits of a drone inspection program like this?

There are many.

First, these types of programs can relieve inspectors and electrical workers of routine tasks. For instance, during the inspection process, a program like the one described can alleviate the need to scan hundreds of images of each structure in a high-fire-risk area to find a right-of-way or access path for maintenance and repair workers.

This allows for more focus to be put on identifying and mitigating fire risks. 

Second, once the computer vision and machine learning are adequately trained, these programs can reduce human error and speed up response time when issues are found. 

Finally, by reducing the need for manned inspections, drone inspection programs can reduce safety hazards for the inspection crews of utilities companies like PG&E. (For more information on how drones improve infrastructure inspections, see our article, “Three Reasons Drones Improve Infrastructure Inspections.”)

Will this program prevent future forest fires?

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) estimates that about 10 percent of the state’s wildfires are triggered by power lines.

A 10% reduction in wildfires would be a notable accomplishment for California, especially given the large scale of recent incidents, such as the Camp Fire.

(It’s also worth noting that federal investigators are looking into whether the more recent Bobcat Fire could have been caused by another utility company’s faulty equipment.)

The good news is that PG&E’s case seems to be inspiring other utility companies to develop similar drone programs. At the end of 2019, San Diego Gas & Electric started using drones and computer vision to inspect its distribution equipment in high-risk areas.

And similarly, in March of 2020, Southern California Edison announced that it was piloting a program that uses drones to inspect distribution and transmission lines in high-risk fire areas.

But unfortunately, better inspections by themselves will not eliminate the risk of utility-driven forest fires.

California has 25,526 miles of higher voltage transmission lines, and 239,557 miles of distribution lines, two-thirds of which are overhead, according to the CPUC. 

Since it’s so hard to maintain and inspect overhead lines – especially old ones –  many have suggested that the only truly effective way to prevent future forest fires is to move the lines underground, where harsh weather conditions are less likely to cause sparks.

But, according to PG&E’s website — Facts about Undergrounding Power Lines — it costs about $3 million per mile to convert underground electric distribution lines from overhead lines, and it costs $800,000 to build a mile of new overhead line.

So, until residents of California are willing to experience a massive hike in electricity costs, it’s likely that drones will be critical to minimizing the risks brought about by California’s aging electrical infrastructure.

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn is an experienced management professional who is currently pursuing her master’s in Data, Economics, and Development Policy at MIT while serving as principal consultant at Consult92.

Miriam developed a love for UAS technology when she served as operations manager at Consortiq. Today, having completed over 30 successful projects in 10 countries, she loves solving a wide variety of logistical, technical, and cultural challenges for her clients so that they can focus on what care about most.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

How to Pitch Drone Solutions to Leadership

The coronavirus pandemic placed a strain on many businesses. 

With a projected 5.2% reduction of global GDP in 2020, most everyone has felt the economic impact of the virus.

Some industries, such as tourism, will lose trillions of dollars in revenue, and millions of jobs worldwide. Other sectors might feel less of an impact, but they’re still taking the time to decrease spending as a precautionary measure.

Regardless of how severe the pandemic’s impact has been on your business, you have likely seen a decrease in expenditures. It’s human nature to be averse to change in times of uncertainty.

That response is, at times, unfortunate, particularly in the business world. That’s because, during times like these, exploring new technology may be most advantageous for the future.

Perhaps, before the pandemic, you read about drone solutions for commercial applications, and the many potential benefits the technology could offer your business or organization.

Maybe you’d like to explore adding drones solutions to your company, but you’re sure how to sell the idea to your leadership team. Decreased company spending may even have you concerned about discussing adoption of UAVs into the organization.

Of course, that’s perfectly normal. And, with proper preparation, you can overcome it.

Let’s discuss a few considerations on how to take advantage of the current economic conditions to successfully pitch bringing drones into your organization.

Drone Solutions Implementation: Making it Pitch Perfect

Investing in new technology can be a tough sell in any economic environment.

When looking to convince your supervisor to consider UAV technology, it is essential to present your findings in a manner that shows your understanding of the topic.

Remember, drone consultancy firms are a fantastic resource when researching drone applications and putting your case together for UAV integration.

Organize Your Presentation

First, make sure to properly organize your presentation.

Drones are proven, useful tools in a wide range of industries, so there’s plenty of available information. Make sure you understand the different types of drone hardware, payloads, and training needed to operate each platform. And, make sure you’re comfortable with explaining which ones are best suited for your specific use cases.

To ensure that you have an expert perspective, it’s best practice to speak with a drone consultancy firm, as consultants add in-depth knowledge based on experience designed to make your presentation a success.

Get the facts together on drone capabilities, as well as their limitations. Design your presentation so that the facts speak for themselves.

A well-organized brief will hold your audience’s attention and make it much easier for you to present your case.

Create a Unique Business Case

Next, show you understand how UAV technology applies to your specific business.

For example, drones are excellent tools in precision agriculture, discussing multispectral imagery may not be helpful if your primary business is in construction. Identify and present use cases from within your sector.

Also, you’ll need to identify specific benefits relevant to your company’s needs. Consider which of the many advantages drones provide will be most important to your supervisor, then break it down in a way he/she will understand.

Start Small and Build as Needed

While you may envision a fleet of UAVs and teams of pilots joining your organization, your supervisor perspective may see that as too much too soon.

Often, a trial program is the best way to generate buy-in from leadership.

Look to propose drone solutions designed to capture low-hanging fruit, such as improving safety by keeping people out of harm’s way. Small gains during a trial period are easy to transfer into more comprehensive programs at a later time.

And, of Course, ROI

Perhaps to best selling point from a supervisor’s perspective is the return on investment (ROI).

In most cases, ROI calculates what the company needs to invest in drone technology and how long it will take to see a return. This financial calculation is pretty straightforward, but it should not be the only way you discuss ROI.

Investing in new UAV technology can, of course, produce a financial return. But, other returns are worth discussing with upper management as well.

UAVs have given many industries improved safety ratings, eliminated redundancies, enhanced security, and provided customers with better products or services than realized through traditional methods.

Bringing It All Together

Drones solutions have been successfully proven across a wide range of use cases.

With a little research, and even some assistance from UAV consulting firms, you can successfully pitch exploring drone usage in your organization.

Creating an organized, factually supported brief with a focus on ROI is the best approach for briefing supervisors on the benefits of UAVs.

Ready to make your presentation? We’re here to help!

From operational support and drone training solutions, to online consultation and drones-as-a-service, our team of UAS experts is here to help you present your case and accomplish your goals!

Complete the form below to schedule a consultation today!

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

Here’s How Drones Improve Workplace Safety

There is often an understandable hesitation in moving from established methods towards adopting new technologies.

A Pew Research Center study found that only 28% of Americans liked to be early adopters of new innovations. Many organizations tend to wait for technology to prove itself before moving away from their current methods of addressing a problem or need.

One of the more recent technological advancements some people are hesitant to adopt are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones. Common reasons for the hesitation are privacy concerns, a lack of confidence in the technology, and perceived costs.

Additionally, there are concerns over regulatory conditions and legal variations from country to country.

Unlike other newer technologies, drones have already proven themselves. The list of successful use cases across many industries continues to grow every day. It is a fact that drones are a sustainable and economical solution for many applications.

For those looking for an additional reason to consider implementing drones into their operations, one of the most convincing arguments is related to safety.

Dangerous Conditions

Collectively, mankind has made incredible advancements.

From landing on the moon to harnessing the atom’s power, humans have accomplished much in the last 100 years alone. And yet, although we continue to discover and innovate, some of the most well-developed nations in the world still suffer from workplace fatalities.

Between 2018 and 2019, the United Kingdom reported workplace 147 fatalities. The number one cause of death in these cases was listed as falls from a height.

During the same period in the United States, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration reported a staggering 5,250 fatalities occurring in the workplace. Falls were again the largest cause of death (highway collisions were excluded from this count).

Many of these fatalities involved dangerous work tasks, such as utility inspections, that could have been accomplished by drones.

Part 107 Drone Pilot Training - Drone solutions - Consortiq
Improving Safety with Drones - Man flying a drone over a job site.

Drones, A Safer Solution

With so many fatalities, leaders and decision-makers must do everything they can to keep their employees out of harm’s way.

Safety discussions and personal protective equipment help mitigate situations like falls from a height. However, they cannot prevent them.

The only way to ensure some of these fatalities will not occur is to completely remove people from dangerous environments.

Drones are ideally suited to complete many of the tasks that place humans at dangerous heights.

Visual inspections of wind turbines, for example, put people hundreds of feet in the air. Inspection personnel are suspended with ropes as they methodically search for defects in the rotor, nacelle, tower, foundation, and electrical system of each wind turbine.

During the entire process, people are in danger of falling. Drones, on the other hand, can complete much of the inspection process without ever placing people in danger. Additionally, the versatility of payload options can allow for much more detailed data collection during the process.

Heights are not the only situations where drones can keep people out of harm’s way. UAVs can operate in smoke, high temperatures, toxic gas, confined spaces, dust, and radiation.

Another example of drones keeping people safe can be found in how we combat fires. Firefighters are often placed in burning buildings where flames, toxic smoke, and falling debris can quickly cause injury or death. Fire departments around the world are finding UAVs as a solution to keeping their teams safe.

Drones can assess the hot spots of a building and provide firefighters with situational awareness before they even approach a burning structure. They can then monitor the situation and keep track of individual firefighter locations, avoiding potential disaster if a team member is in danger. Drones provide an extra layer of safety between firefighters and flames.

Drones, A Safer Solution

With the ability to operate in the austere conditions, drones can easily help to lower workplace injuries and fatalities. In many cases, the technology eliminates the need to place people in dangerous environments all together.

Any loss of life or injury to people in the workplace is a tragedy. It is especially challenging to understand and process the loss when other options could have prevented the fatality. 

If your organization has yet to investigate how drones can improve your operations, ask if they can make your operation safer. You may find the return on invest in UAV technology is in keeping your people safe.

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

3 Reasons Drones Improve Infrastructure Inspections

The global economy depends on the vast network of infrastructure which connects goods and services in the marketplace to customers.

Roads, railways, bridges, power plants, wind turbines, solar farms, and more are vital to meeting our energy needs and fueling commerce.

The cost to maintain these critical structures can be staggering. For example, in the United States, the government spends well over $400 billion annually on infrastructure alone. A significant portion of that spend goes toward inspection, maintenance, and repairing existing structures.

Even more alarming than the cost is the age and health of these structures.

Like many countries, the United States is facing a crisis concerning rapidly degrading infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that the U.S. will need to spend $4.5 trillion by 2025 to fix it.

Traditional methods of infrastructure inspection rely heavily on placing people in harm’s way to complete the task.

Structures such as wind turbines and bridges place people at dangerous heights and around moving parts that can cause injury or death. Personnel exposed to working at heights often have some of the highest fatality rates for work-related deaths.

Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology has advanced far enough to replace human involvement in many of these precarious situations, while often producing better results. Here’s how.

The Benefits of Drone Inspections

Safety

 

Improved safety is perhaps the most significant benefit of using drones for inspections.

When conducting an assessment, inspectors use various tools to detect stresses in materials, surface temperatures, and other factors to determine the physical and functional condition of a given structure.

Recent: Should You Use Drone as a Service or Start an In-House UAV Program?

Before industries began using drones, most inspection methods put people in harm’s way. In some cases, such as the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster in Japan, areas that required thorough, periodic examinations were far too dangerous for workers.

Drones ably move into dangerous areas, including radioactive environments, and collect the information needed without ever posing a risk to humans

 

Speed

 

Typical infrastructure inspections may take weeks or even months to plan and schedule, and they may require shutdowns and delays.

For example, if a bridge requires an inspection for evidence of cracks in concrete supports, you’ll need additional equipment, such as hydraulic lifts, to complete the task. And, you’ll likely need to close off that bridge for the inspection team’s safety, thus causing traffic delays.

Once you schedule an inspection team, rent heavy equipment, and work with government officials to get clearances, you’re already be behind schedule and over budget. Of course, that’s all in addition to the aforementioned safety concerns.

The use of drones eliminates all of those issues. With a certified remote pilot and the right UAS technology, you’ll mitigate those risks and quickly get the job done on your terms.

Advanced Technology and Data Collection

 

Inspections at most facilities, such as solar farms, require more than just visual observation.

Photographs in the visible spectrum might identify some issues, but completely miss others. Technologies, such as Thermal imaging, LiDAR, and sometimes multispectral imaging, provide powerful information. For example, you’ll immediately know when a solar cell is no longer functioning properly.

Many drones swap out payloads or have built-in dual-camera systems (i.e. Parrot Anafi Thermal). These features allow inspectors to collect numerous data points for further analysis in just a single drone flight.

There’s also the quality of UAV optics and other hardware, which allows for more precise inspection of hard to reach locations.

Optics have grown from small cameras producing grainy images to dynamic image-collecting devices with extensive zoom capabilities. Standard UAV cameras capture images 20MP or larger, and can take video in 4K or better.

Hardware improvements on GPS receivers, visual sensors, and infrared sensors have made obstacle-avoidance systems extraordinarily reliable, even indoors. Battery improvements are also advancing, as some drones are capable of hour-plus flight durations on a single charge.

Combined, the precision optics and reliable hardware provide inspectors with more precise, detailed data.

Drone inspection thermal imaging

Bringing It All Together

When it comes to infrastructure inspections, UAV technology has provided innovation across numerous industries.

With increased safety, enhanced data collection, higher quality data, and greater versatility, you’ll get more done safely, and with less disruption.

Of course, drone inspections require more than just buying the equipment and taking to the skies. You’ll need certified remote pilots and industry-specific training, plus operation and safety guidelines.

With Consortiq, we take care of the hard work for you. We’ll help you create a course of action based on your needs, from operational support and use cases, to ongoing training programs. If you’re not interested in starting your own drone program, we’ll conduct the inspections for you, when you need them.

Save time, limit risk, and get the information you need with Consortiq!

For a risk-free quote, or to schedule a consultation with a team member, just complete the form below, or call us at 1-855-203-8825 (U.S. office) | +44 (0)208 0450 322 (UK office).

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

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Get More Accurate Data in Less Time With Aerial Surveys

There already exists an impressive list of use cases for drones across a diverse set of industries.

Some UAV applications are seeing positive but limited use, such as drones designed for planting trees. Other UAV solutions are becoming more widespread and commonplace. One of the most prevalent UAV solutions is aerial surveying.

Surveying is essential to many of the largest sectors of the global economy. Construction, mining, oil and gas, real estate, and several other industries rely on accurate survey data for building, project management, and other onsite operations.

Traditionally, these industries have used ground survey methods to collect the data needed to create outputs, such as 3D models, topographic maps, volumetric estimates, orthomosaics, and other photogrammetry products.

Drones are more cost-effective for the task than land-survey crews. And, for many businesses, they’re the best option available.

The benefits of aerial surveying are fueling greater adoption of UAV technology. If you’re looking for a faster, safer way to conduct surveys, then drone-use might just be the solution.

How Aerial Surveys Work

Drone aerial surveying is a form of photogrammetry, or measuring distance using pictures.

There are several programs on the market that make planning and executing aerial survey flights almost automatic. 

When conducting an aerial survey, remote pilots fly the drone  over the subject area, with the camera pointing downward. As the drone flies on a predetermined course, pictures are taken at different angles and in an overlapping fashion.

Additionally, the drone’s GPS receiver records coordinates for the center point of each photograph.

After photos are uploaded to photogrammetry software, the data is converted into any number of products, such as topographic maps or 3D models.

How Accurate Are Drone Aerial Surveys?

So, how accurate are they?

The short answer is that, with the right drone and additional equipment, they’re just as accurate as ground-based surveys. And, they cover more areas, such as dangerous terrain.

Aerial surveys include both relative and absolute accuracy. Relative accuracy is the accuracy between two images or points the drone collects. Absolute accuracy is how accurate the aerial survey is to the Earth’s surface.

Drones use GPS receivers to record the coordinates assigned to a given image they collect. GPS receivers. on most drones, have high relative accuracy but are not as accurate in absolute terms.

That means the data they collect can quickly be processed into 3D maps and other products, but some calibration is necessary to align with the Earth’s surface and yield survey-level absolute accuracy.

To achieve this, tools called Ground Control Points (GCPs) are added to the aerial surveyor’s kit. GCPs are markers on the ground whose location is recorded using handheld or built-in GPS receivers with a very high absolute accuracy level.

When the coordinates for these points are compared to the drone’s data, the relative data points are calibrated, and highly accurate survey data is produced.

The Benefits of Aerial Surveys

There are several significant benefits to using aerial survey platforms, as opposed to land-based survey teams.

If your business uses land-based teams, switching to aerial surveys can produce a noticeable difference in your bottom line.

Additionally, It saves you a substantial amount of time. UAVs cover a large amount of ground in a short time frame. Some drones are capable of completing surveys 80% faster than traditional methods.

Also, many environments that require surveys are dangerous. Construction sites, open-pit mines, or even areas affected by natural disasters pose severe threats to humans looking to survey the area.

Drones offer standoff from the immediate danger while still allowing for accurate surveys to be completed. Additionally, drones typically do not require an active site to be shut down for your survey team’s safety.

Land-based survey teams often require advanced scheduling and several days or even weeks to complete a project.

And, the low cost of capable UAV platforms allows for most operations to have in-house drone capabilities. This convenience means surveys can be conducted whenever needed, without the hassle of scheduling surveyors or using outside resources.

Aerial surveys with drones are quickly becoming the standard. As technology continues to improve, UAVs will likely command a larger share of the survey market. If you are currently using traditional survey methods, invest the time to investigate aerial survey options further with a qualified consultant.

Bringing It All Together

Aerial surveys with drones are quickly becoming the standard.

As technology continues to improve, UAVs will likely command a larger share of the survey market.

Are you looking to a better way to conduct your surveys? We’re here to help. Whether you want to outsource or create your own in-house program , Consortiq offers Drones-as-a-Service, a full complement of training, and continued operational support.

Ready to get started? Just complete the form below!

Or, click here to learn more about aerial surveys by Consortiq!

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly - Contributing Author

David Daly, is an award-winning photographer/writer and licensed (FAA) Commercial sUAS pilot. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, David is a former Marine Corps officer with a BS in Oceanography and has earned his MBA from the University of Redlands. David has worked for Fortune 100 companies and has a background in aerospace, construction, military/defense, real estate, and technology.

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Drones Help Precision Agriculture Take off in Australia

Climate change has made life hard for Australian farmers.

From record-setting bushfires to droughts, farmers have lost up to 20% of their profits over the past 20 years due to environmental factors.

With the pandemic-driven disruptions to the global economy, you might think that 2020 has been yet another year of hard hits for Aussie farmers.

Yet, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) forecasted that the winter crop yield will be 44.5 million tonns in 2020–21, which is 11 percent above the average annual level of the past ten years.

What's Going On Here? More Rain in 2020?

It’s true that 2020 hasn’t been quite as brutal as 2019, the hottest and driest year on record for Australia.

But rainfall across Australia was 43% below average in July, so that doesn’t seem to be the biggest thing that has changed. A more likely cause for this accomplishment is that Australia’s farmers improved with precision agriculture over the past few years.

And, as you might guess, drones played a key role in making that possible. 

Drones Improving Agriculture? How So?

The goal of precision agriculture is to optimize returns on inputs while preserving resources like water and chemicals.

To do that, farmers must be able to observe, measure, and respond to tiny variations of outcomes in their crops. For example, Queensland farmers use drones to map their fields of macadamia trees, identify unhealthy ones, and spray the trees at highest risk with fungicide and fertilizer to give them a boost.

According to the drone-manufacturing company XAG, these methods helped Australian farmers reduce water use by up to 90% and chemical use by up to 30%. That’s compared to the status-quo method of using tractor-mounted spray cannons as a spray tool for pest and disease management in macadamia orchards.

XAG drones are also being used to map hard-to-reach locations and drop seeds to restore empty fields.

What Types of Drones are Being Used For Precision Agriculture?

It really depends on the use case.

As a general rule of thumb, fixed-wing UAVs are the best when you want to cover a lot of ground. Alternatively, multirotors are better-suited to precision imaging of small or constrained areas and 3-D scanning of fields and objects, due to their maneuverability. 

When it comes to size, large drones tend to be more costly than small drones, but they’re also more weather-proof and better suited for large areas of coverage. Meanwhile, smaller drones tend to be better suited for activities requiring greater precision; as we’ve noted in another article,

Additionally, Japanese farmers have developed insect-sized drones to pollinate plants as bees do. 

In Australia, farmers and drone-as-a-service (DaaS) companies seem to use a variety of platform sizes and types. For example, Oztech Drones, a Queensland-based DaaS company, uses a 40-kg quadcopter for seeding, and smaller, [fixed-wing] surveying drones for mapping. 

Is Satellite Imagery Likely to Replace Drone Imagery Any Time Soon?

While many farmers use both types, satellite imagery and drone imagery have their pros and cons.

Because drones take a lot of time to survey a large plot of land, satellite companies make compelling offerings for frequent updates on macro-trends.

For instance, Planet Labs, a firm in San Francisco, keeps a fleet of about 30 mini-satellites (measuring a few centimeters across) in orbit. This allows it to provide fresh data to farmers at a relatively affordable rate, though the imagery has a resolution per pixel of only 3.5 meters (about ten feet).

Fitted with the right sensors, drones offer much better resolution, but it’s not usually cost-effective for farmers to gather drone data as frequently as they would like.

What is the Future of Precision Agriculture in Australia?

Right now, it seems like many farmers rely on DaaS companies to perform key precision agriculture functions, but that might change.

Most of Australia’s DaaS companies today are small businesses.

It’s unlikely that they’re working at a large enough scale to offer low prices for their services while still making a profit.

DaaS is appealing to farmers who are in the “experimental” phase of using drone technology, and aren’t ready to invest in an expensive platform and sensors. However, water scarcity might make precision farming more than just a competitive advantage … instead, it may become an absolute necessity.

In that case, it seems like farmers might decide to develop in-house drone solutions

However, if DaaS providers manage to scale up their offerings enough to ensure good quality and prices, it might make more sense for farmers to just just pay someone to provide drones solutions for them.

It’s worth noting that drones are just part of the picture. True, forward-thinking farmers are integrating IoT sensors, satellite data, and other data sources, into their strategies, as each offers unique pros and cons.

The quality and cost of data from these other sources will likely directly impact the role that drones play in data-gathering activities in the future. However, even if IoT sensors and satellites could provide all of the necessary data, farmers would still need a cost-effective method of administering water, insecticide, and fungicide to the plants in need.

And, drones seem particularly well-suited to do just that. 

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn is an experienced management professional who is currently pursuing her master’s in Data, Economics, and Development Policy at MIT while serving as principal consultant at Consult92.

Miriam developed a love for UAS technology when she served as operations manager at Consortiq. Today, having completed over 30 successful projects in 10 countries, she loves solving a wide variety of logistical, technical, and cultural challenges for her clients so that they can focus on what care about most.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

Drones to Detect Jellyfish For Nuclear Power Plant

Last month, the UK government’s Drones Pathfinder Programme announced the addition of a new project to its portfolio.

The project, led by Cranfield University and EDF Energy, will assess the feasibility of using unmanned aerial systems (UAS) for the early detection of marine hazards near coastal industries, particularly nuclear power stations.

What Problem is the Project Trying to Solve?

Basically, a lot of seaweed, jellyfish, fish and other marine wildlife get caught in the cooling systems of nuclear power plants in what is commonly called “marine ingress.”

Marine ingress damages nuclear plant machinery and disrupts power generation, which threatens the stability of the energy grid. For example, in 2011, EDF Energy’s Torness nuclear power plant in Scotland was forced to shut down twice in one week because of jellyfish incursions, and it lost about $1.5 million revenue per day.

From an ecological standpoint, ingress is equally concerning. For instance, a 2005 study of 11 coastal power plants in Southern California estimated that in 2003, a single nuclear plant killed close to 3.5 million fish.

While better filtration, use of innovative technology, such as “bubble curtains,” and well-timed shutdowns, can minimize the negative impact of marine ingress. All of these measures are costly and currently administered less precisely than would be ideal.

How Will UAS Help?

Scientists at the University of Cranfield believe that routine wide-area data capture by drones could improve nuclear plants’ early warning systems, which would allow for more timely adjustment of water-cooling mechanisms in response.

According to Angus Bloomfield, a marine biology consultant at EDF, simply improving the early warning system could enable power plants to “avoid the most dramatic effects these [marine ingress] events can bring.” 

To test this idea out, Cranfield University and its partners will first seek to optimize wide-area UAS monitoring protocols using statistical and mathematical techniques, as well as perform an academic review of the benefits of Extended Visual Line of Sight (EVLOS) / BVLOS operations within the context of marine ingress detection.

Next, they will conduct BVLOS UAS trials near an EDF nuclear power station to detect jellyfish and kelp blooms and publish their results for the benefit of other nuclear plant operators, innovators, and researchers.

How Might This Study Impact the Drone Industry?

Nuclear power accounts for an estimated 21% of the U.K’s electricity,  20% of the U.S.’s, and 10% of global electricity.

Although many countries are phasing out nuclear power generation, it’s likely to remain a big industry for many years to come, so mitigating a major pain point could increase demand for drone solutions, as well as funding for further research and development. 

If the use-case proves popular in the U.S., where nuclear power plants are deemed to be critical infrastructure that is vulnerable to espionage, solutions will have to be developed with platforms manufactured domestically or in allied countries.

In this sense, an increase in demand for UAS solutions in the nuclear power sector may benefit domestic drone manufacturers in countries where the solutions are implemented, and shift the commercial drone market share away from DJI. 

Additionally, like airports, nuclear power companies will need to integrate their UAS solutions with effective security and counter-drone systems, given past instances of unidentified UAS swarms around power plants that have raised questions about nuclear plant vulnerability to terrorist drones and (more likely) drone-enhanced espionage

These are indirect effects which are conditional on the program’s success and widespread adoption – two developments which remain in the medium to long-term future.

For now, all that we know is that yet another promising UAS solution is being developed, and that it will be worth following the project to see what happens.

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn is an experienced management professional who is currently pursuing her master’s in Data, Economics, and Development Policy at MIT while serving as principal consultant at Consult92.

Miriam developed a love for UAS technology when she served as operations manager at Consortiq. Today, having completed over 30 successful projects in 10 countries, she loves solving a wide variety of logistical, technical, and cultural challenges for her clients so that they can focus on what care about most.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!

Trump Administration Changes UAS Export Policy

On Friday, July 24, the Trump Administration announced an update to the 2018 Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Export Policy, which makes it easier for U.S. manufacturers to export certain types of UAS to foreign allies and partners. 

UAS Export Policy? Tell Me More...

Since 1987, the United States and 35 other countries have voluntarily adhered to the international nuclear nonproliferation export guidelines of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR.)

The MTCR is designed to limit the proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapon delivery systems and related technology, and suggests different levels of export restriction for different two categories of potential exports.

Cateogry I” items, which include ballistic missiles and nuclear-capable cruise missiles, are considered to be the most risky, and MTCR recommends that partner governments should have “a strong presumption to deny” technology transfers through the export of Category I items, regardless of their purpose, though it allows for exports of “rare occasions.” 

Meanwhile, the MTCR suggests a more liberal approach to authorizing exports of Category II items, which include less sensitive and dual-use, missile-related components. 

Currently, MTCR classifies UAS that are capable of delivering a payload of at least 500 kg to a range of at least 300 km, along with their major complete subsystems and related software and technology, to be Category I, while UAS that don’t meet that criteria are classified as Category II

So, What's the Trump Administration Changing?

The new UAS export policy reclassifies a subset of UAS with a maximum airspeed of fewer than 800 kilometers per hour to the less strict “Category II.”

This means that it will be slightly easier to export these types of UAS. 

Why Did They Do That?

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany stated that the MTCR’s standards, which are over 30 years old, are outdated and give an unfair industry advantage to countries outside of the MTCR (namely China) while hurting the U.S. drone industry and “handicapping U.S. partners and allies with subpar technology.”

This is in line with a 2017 RAND Corporation study, which argued that restrictions on shipping armed and unarmed drones to foreign customers, such as Jordan, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia, have left U.S. manufacturers at a disadvantage, effectively ceding much of the market to China.  

The Trump administration has been trying to convince MTCR partners to multilaterally adjust the classification since April 2018 but, due to lack of consensus, Trump has decided to change the U.S.’s adherence. 

Will the U.S. Regain Its Share of the International Drone Market?

Some have argued that it’s too late to turn the tide, as the Chinese share of the military drone market has grown a lot, particularly in Africa.

But, there have been reports of Chinese-made drones, such as the CH-4B “Rainbow” Predator-knockoff, performing so badly that the Air Forces that bought them ended up selling off parts of their fleets.

On top of that, European countries remain wary of using Chinese drones for classified military purposes. This means that there is likely still time for U.S. manufacturers to regain lost ground.

What Else Could Happen?

First, the good news: Lifting these export restrictions could improve R&D for drone manufacturing in the U.S.

The previously mentioned RAND study suggests that excessive export controls have stymied UAS research, both in companies and other research organizations, such as universities. The benefits of this R&D could spill over into commercial drone manufacturing, especially for drones designed to perform long-duration operations in harsh environmental conditions.

 

RECENT: Why Enterprise Drone Training Creates Smarter Drone Programs

 

The bad news is that this could exacerbate tension between the U.S. and China. In particular, less than two weeks after the new policy was announced, the U.S. began negotiating the sale of at least four of its large “SeaGuardian” aerial drones to Taiwan for the first time.

The deal still has to be approved by Congress, but if it goes through, it would feed into what the New York Times, calls a campaign by national security officials “to set the United States on a long-term course of competition and confrontation with China.” 

This Sounds Like a Big Game-Changer

Sort of.

Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Mike Andrews has stated that the DoD is “fully supportive of implementing all aspects of this Administration’s updated UAS policy,” but stressed that “particularly sensitive components and subsystems [still] must be sold via Foreign Military Sales (FMS), as is the case for sensitive components and subsystems for manned aircraft sales.”

It’s important to bear in mind that other regulatory frameworks, such as the Arms Export Control Act, impose restrictions on the exports of UAS, so the outcomes of this policy change, while nontrivial, may not be as sweeping as they seem. For more information, check out the updated U.S. Policy on the Export of Unmanned Aerial Systems.

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn - Contributing Author

Miriam Hinthorn is an experienced management professional who is currently pursuing her master’s in Data, Economics, and Development Policy at MIT while serving as principal consultant at Consult92.

Miriam developed a love for UAS technology when she served as operations manager at Consortiq. Today, having completed over 30 successful projects in 10 countries, she loves solving a wide variety of logistical, technical, and cultural challenges for her clients so that they can focus on what care about most.

Ready to Integrate Drones Into Your Organization? Contact Us Today to Get Started!