Drones may have initially gained popularity as a source of entertainment for hobbyists, but they have rapidly become an indispensable commercial tool for a broad range of industries. The construction and building inspection industries have embraced this new technology due to its ability to provide critical inspection information in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost of traditional surveying methods. Drones also have a distinct advantage when it comes to safety. Drone inspections are easily carried out in difficult-to-reach locations, and provide superior results to traditional inspecting methods.
The list of uses for inspection and mapping by drones seems endless. Whether inspecting a new building or investigating an insurance claim, companies need to collect accurate data quickly. Drone mapping provides this ability, allowing inspectors to safely and easily capture a high-resolution aerial assessment of a location in minutes. The information gathered can literally be analyzed from anywhere in the world, helping people collaborate and make more educated decisions in a very short amount of time.
For large areas, the mapping processes used by drones are very similar to traditional aerial methods. Mapping with drones, for example, is still performed using a technique called photogrammetry. This process of making measurements from photographs is still used today -- many of the maps we use were created using photogrammetric images taken from traditional aircraft. Drones have improved this technique in many ways. A drone can be deployed quickly in almost any location, including areas that are too dangerous for traditional aircraft to fly. The cost of purchasing and operating a drone is miniscule when compared to that of purchasing and operating fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. A drone’s software and autopilot capabilities can precisely control its flight path, speed, and camera frame rate to save time and improve efficiency. This type of precision makes drones the perfect platform for inspection and mapping. The combination of today's high-resolution cameras and inexpensive flying devices enables mapping at levels of detail never before imagined. Drones are capable of obtaining higher quality images taken from lower altitudes, which means they produce superior high-quality maps and 3D renderings of the site or structure being inspected.
Once data from the site is gathered, state-of-the-art image processing technologies can create multiple perspectives of the survey area and convert the images into 3D models and maps. Drone mapping creates a huge potential for many industries, including construction, agriculture, mining, infrastructure inspection, and real estate. Having the ability to create a clear, accurate photograph or 3D model of your project area, complete with measurements, provides a cost-saving advantage that improves accuracy and safety at the same time.
In addition, industries like oil and gas, construction, communications, and utilities are required to carry out routine inspections of their equipment and infrastructure to ensure safe working conditions. Routine inspections performed by hand can only achieve so many results before subjecting workers to dangerous situations and interfering with operations. This has led an increasing number of companies turning to UAVs to address the many operational challenges human inspectors face on a daily basis. Many tasks, like corrosion identification, detection and analysis of hairline cracks, spillage and leak detection, dilapidation assessments, and land surveys are much more safely and efficiently carried out by drones than by humans. Using a wide selection of cameras and sensor data, which can be collected from the drone and sent back to a computer in real time for assessment, issues can be addressed quickly and efficiently with minimal disruption to operations.
Infrastructure is a fantastic example of a field where drones are making a big difference when it comes to inspection and mapping. Public infrastructure is a critical component of today’s society, and includes a vast network of structures including roads, waterways, bridges, railways, and airports. The constant maintenance of these structures is essential to the smooth, uninterrupted transportation of goods and services – operations which are necessary for a healthy modern economy to thrive. The constant maintenance of this high-tech network is extremely costly and is falling into disrepair since many major structures in the United States are over 50 years old.. Drones are becoming the most efficient alternative to physical inspections when it comes to maintaining this daunting array of aging structures that are so critical to our way of life.
Since drones can be equipped with various cameras and sensors, they can operate day and night, in addition to detecting problems and damage that are invisible to the naked eye. Drones can handle the size and scope of a vast infrastructure network by conducting tedious and repetitive tasks using autonomous pre-programmed inspection routes. They are capable of inspecting vast areas in unique and more efficient ways than their human counterparts. In addition, they can complete inspections and mapping of these systems in less time and at a lower cost, which allows more frequent inspections, quicker problem resolution, and reduced interruptions to the overall system.
Drones have a large role to play in the future of inspection and mapping – their specific capabilities lend them perfectly to the industry. Their ability to reduce costs while increasing safety positions them to be utilized in almost every inspection and mapping application imaginable.