AI for Inspection: Precise and cost-effective aerial capture using autonomous drones

Published on 14 Jan 2023

AI for Inspection

Since the 2010s, as drone technology has advanced, their utilization has become a characteristic of the world's most efficient inspection programs. UAS lets teams efficiently gather, analyze, and communicate inspection data throughout their companies with little overhead and operational expenses. Inspection data taken by a drone enables asset owners and managers to analyze the condition of their assets and make better-informed choices on improvements and repairs.

Traditional inspection approaches have limitations that have prompted inspection team supervisors to seek alternatives. Whether it is due to exorbitant costs, poor inspection quality, or a great hazard to personnel, inspection management must implement new technologies immediately. Several of the most prevalent pre-drone inspection procedures are outlined here; for each, it is evident that uncrewed aerial systems, if applied successfully, provide substantial and immediate benefits.

Manual Drones Failed to Displace Conventional Techniques

The inspection industry is not a single entity. Requirements vary greatly depending on the asset being examined and the inspector's connection to that asset. To successfully record assets, inspection programs must have equipment that enables accurate, cost-effective, and secure operations. In this part, we will evaluate these needs concerning a few businesses that have been early adopters of drone inspections.

Bridge Examination

  • The frequency of inspection includes a two-year cycle (Federal Highway Administration), one year in certain states (e.g., Ohio)
  • Specification requirements identify concrete fractures, corrosion, and loose bolts.
  • Traditional methods include ground-based examination (poor accuracy), rappels (high risk), and snooper vehicles (high operating and social cost)

According to a recent survey by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the average cost to evaluate a typical motorway bridge using conventional deck inspection techniques is $4,600. The disturbance created by longer lane closures is estimated to have cost the bridge's users $14,600 in social costs. With such severe economic disadvantages, it's not surprising that transportation departments throughout the United States have begun exploring drones as a solution.

However, bridge inspectors have needed help developing programs using manual drones since these aircraft need accurate GPS and magnetometer data for steady flying, rendering them unusable while investigating the bottom of a bridge. Teams conducting bridge inspections will need equipment capable of taking high-resolution pictures from close range, including within truss structures, and pilot aid tools that expedite the work without jeopardizing safety.

Cell Tower Examination

  • Cell service providers must offer their carrier clients up-to-date colocation information on a timely turnaround.
  • Identify corrosion or lost fasteners, and be able to read the labels on antennas and other components.
  • Tower ascents (slow and hazardous for inspectors) are a pre-drone approach.

To examine cell towers, drones offer an intriguing alternative to tower climbs. Often, the airspace around the tower provides a better viewpoint for evaluating the tower's frame and antennas than a ladder connected to the structure. In addition, eliminating the necessity for a tower climb immediately minimizes the company's risk exposure. In place of a human inspector going through a checklist and taking written notes, drones may build a complete 3D model of an examined asset, assuring complete coverage of the structure and generating a better inspection report. Nevertheless, manual drones could be more effective for checking big and dispersed tower networks.

Programs for quality management of cell towers are often comprised of hundreds of inspectors responsible for evaluating tens of thousands of purposefully separated assets. To gather inspection data uniformly among inspectors, assets, and locations, these systems must thus educate a large number of pilots. To establish these programs in a scalable manner, it will be necessary to work with an enterprise-focused drone service provider to implement pilot support technologies that decrease the need for pilot training while encouraging high-quality inspections.

The Future of AI For Inspection

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