In the last few years, drone inspection has become mainstream across many industries and verticals. And it is growing by leaps and bounds.
According to recent research, the drone inspection market is projected to be 21.3 billion dollars in the next four years.
Insider Intelligence reports that the growth of the drone industry in recent years has been significant, with the drone services market projected to expand to $63.6 billion by 2025.
If you are ready to be a part of this exciting opportunity, you need to get the basics right.
This guide is written precisely to give you a full understanding of the drone inspection market, which industries it is being used in, and the various types of opportunities available. We’ll also look into the tools of the trade and how you can get a foothold in this exciting market.
First, let’s get down to the basics and understand what drone inspection really is.
Drone inspection is the process of using unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) equipped with cameras and sensors to inspect and evaluate structures, facilities, and infrastructure.
It provides a safe, cost-effective, and efficient alternative to traditional inspection methods. You can analyze the data collected from drone inspections to identify potential issues, track progress, and inform decision-making.
Before delving into the specifics of drone inspection, let us take a look at the benefits of drone inspections.
Here are SIX major advantages of using drones for inspections:
Overall, the use of drones for inspections offers a safer, more cost-effective, and more efficient way to inspect and evaluate various types of assets.
That being said, let’s take a look at the various types of drone inspection verticals:
Let’s talk about the different types of drone inspection opportunities in various industries and verticals.
The infrastructure inspection sector is growing at an unprecedented pace. Using cutting-edge technologies such as robotics, augmented reality, and deep learning, drone inspection is transforming the methods we use to supervise and assess structural systems.
The infrastructure inspection includes checking bridges, buildings, and other structures for damage or wear and tear.
A land survey is a visual representation of a property. It outlines the legal borders and other aspects of a property that could be relevant in resolving any concerns that may arise during real estate dealings.
The land survey includes gathering data on the terrain for construction or agricultural purposes.
Note: Drone pilots must comply with federal and state laws when flying drones for surveys. Please check with your local authorities for more information.
Watch this video to learn how to use drones for commercial roof inspections and estimating:
Wildlife monitoring refers to the systematic monitoring of the natural environment or its constituents. This involves consistent observation and documentation of parameters over an extended period to demonstrate patterns and changes over time.
The data obtained from wildlife monitoring enables us to ensure the preservation of common species and provide continued protection and assistance to rare, threatened, and endangered species. Wildlife monitoring includes tracking animal populations and behavior patterns for conservation efforts.
Drones play a crucial role in the surveillance of solar and wind farms, utility towers, power lines, as well as oil and gas pipelines.
It involves detecting potential harm or imperfections, enabling energy companies to devise proactive measures in the early stages while experiencing heightened safety and efficiency.
Energy inspections contain examining wind turbines, solar panels, and other energy systems.
As you can see, drones can work wonders when it comes to inspection jobs.
That being said, let’s jump right into how drone inspection works.
The process of Drone inspection can be broken down into three steps:
I. Preparing Drone Inspection Mission: Before a drone inspection can happen, an overall understanding of the terrain, local regulations, and safety requirements are assessed. You also need to identify the right drone for the mission.
II. Capturing Data: Drone data is captured using payloads (camera sensors, etc) suitable for the mission. The drone data captured is then sent for processing.
III. Analyzing and Interpreting Data: The final step is to analyze and process drone data using specialized software. This is where insights are garnered and communicated to the stakeholders.
Once you have chosen your drone platform, it’s time to begin planning your mission. Remember, the better you plan, the easier it will be for you to deal with uncertainties and mitigate the risks involved.
Preparing for a drone inspection mission involves FOUR simple steps:
It is important to use a high-resolution camera with a larger sensor and a 35mm equivalent focal length for drone inspections. This enables you to capture more detailed images of the object being inspected and improve image contrast, which helps generate accurate 3D models and point clouds.
Picking the right drone is a crucial part of getting ready for a drone inspection mission. Let’s see how you can choose the perfect drone for your inspection work.
Depending on the type of inspection mission you undertake, you need to choose the drone platform most suitable for the job.
Consider the following factors when choosing your drone platform:
The range of a drone is an essential factor to consider when purchasing one, with longer-range drones allowing for wider coverage and more varied shots. In general, the flight range of a drone tends to increase with its price.
For example, the DJI Air 2S has a range of 7.5 miles, the DJI Mavic 3 has a range of 6 miles, the Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced has a range of 6.2 miles, and the DJI M30T has an operation range of 4.34 miles.
It is important to check the camera specifications, including shutter speed, frame rate, zoom options, aperture, and image stabilization, as all of these factors can affect the quality of your photographs.
Flight time is limited by a drone’s battery life, with cheaper models lasting only a few minutes, while more expensive ones typically have a flying time of around 25 to 40 minutes.
The DJI Mavic Mini has a flight time of 20 minutes, while the Autel Robotics EVO Drone can fly for 30 minutes. The DJI Mini 2 has an impressive flight time of 31 minutes, and the Autel Robotics EVO II can stay in the air for up to 40 minutes. The DJI M30T has one of the longest flight times, with a maximum flight time of 41 minutes.
In any case, purchase additional batteries and charge them before leaving home to extend the flight time.
A three-axis gimbal is like a steadying hand for a drone’s camera. It helps to keep the camera steady while the drone moves around in different directions, like up and down, tilting from side to side, and rotating.
This is particularly important when using a drone for inspection, as the camera must remain level in order to capture accurate data and imagery. Without a gimbal, the camera may shake or tilt, making it difficult, if not impossible, to capture the required data.
A drone’s payload capacity is the maximum weight it can carry in addition to its own weight. It is critical to ensure that your drone has enough payload capacity to carry the necessary inspection equipment.
Having nailed the basic preparations of drone inspection, let us dive into the next section: capturing media.
You need to take extra care while capturing the media during the inspection mission. Make sure your camera settings are optimal and that your data storage is also ironed out beforehand.
That’s exactly what we are going to cover in this section:
A. Tips for capturing clear and detailed images.
B. How to use different camera settings to optimize your images.
Let’s look at how you can capture and gather detailed images first.
To capture clear and detailed images, it’s important to fly your drone at the right altitude. The optimal altitude for an inspection can vary depending on the size and nature of the area being inspected.
A good rule of thumb is to fly your drone low enough to capture the necessary detail, but high enough to avoid any obstacles.
For example, while doing a roof inspection, you may need to fly closer to capture the details, but when inspecting a large property, you may need to fly higher to cover more ground.
Experiment with different altitudes to find the sweet spot for your inspection.
Weather conditions can have a big impact on the quality of your images. To capture good images, it is best to be aware of the weather conditions beforehand.
Avoid flying in adverse weather conditions such as rain, fog, or high winds, as they can affect the quality of your images, not to mention put your drone at risk.
For best results, choose a day with clear skies and good lighting.
A gimbal is a helpful tool that keeps the camera steady and minimizes unwanted camera movement during flight. This can make a big difference in the quality of your images, especially when flying in windy conditions.
Invest in a good-quality gimbal to ensure your camera stays steady and gets smooth shots.
Adjusting the camera angle is another important step in capturing images. Experiment with different camera angles to find the best perspective for your inspection.
In the case of a roof inspection, for example, you may need to tilt the camera to capture the correct angle, whereas a cell tower inspection may require you to rotate the camera to capture a 360-degree view.
Don’t be afraid to play around with different camera angles to get the best shot.
The grid lines on your camera screen can help you align your shots and capture images that are level and straight. This is especially useful when inspecting structures or objects that require precise leveling.
Use the grid lines to make sure your images are straight and level, and make any necessary adjustments before taking the shot.
To capture high-quality images and gather accurate data during a drone inspection, you need to adjust the camera settings properly.
Here are a few tips for camera settings that can help you optimize your images.
Use the histogram to analyze the exposure levels of your images and adjust accordingly to get a balanced image with details in the highlights and shadows.
Use the custom white balance function to adjust the color temperature of your images to match the lighting conditions of the environment.
Use a faster shutter speed to avoid blur caused by drone movement or wind in still images. Use a slower shutter speed to give your videos a more cinematic look.
Use the autofocus function to keep the image sharp, or use manual focus to ensure the focus is on the subject of interest. Also, try using focus stacking techniques for more detailed and sharper images.
So far, we have covered two out of three sections: Preparing for a drone inspection mission and Capturing media during the mission.
Now, let’s discuss the third and most critical piece of the drone inspection process – Analyzing and interpreting drone data.
Capturing the media is half the battle won. And getting the right deliverables across to the client is what will make a real difference. That’s what we are going to cover now.
In this section, we are going to talk about:
A. Software that you can use for data processing and analysis
B. Analyzing drone inspection data
C. Creating reports from your drone inspection data
Let’s get started.
Here are a few commonly used software options to process and analyze drone inspection data:
If you are unsure about choosing a drone mapping software, you can read our comprehensive guide on drone mapping.
This is where the rubber meets the road.
Analyzing drone inspection data is a crucial step in the inspection process as it helps to identify and highlight areas of concern that may require further investigation or action.
Here are a few important techniques to achieve this:
By using these techniques, drone inspection data can be effectively analyzed and interpreted to ensure accurate and reliable inspections.
Source: Sample Report (GEOWGS84)
Creating useful reports and visualizations is an essential part of the drone inspection process, as it helps communicate the findings to stakeholders effectively.
Here are some techniques to create these reports and visualizations:
Creating maps and 3D models of the inspection site is an effective way to visualize the data. It allows stakeholders to get a better understanding of the site and identify areas of concern quickly. This technique also helps create a baseline for future inspections.
Using color coding to highlight areas of concern is an effective way to draw attention to potential issues. Heat maps can be created by analyzing data such as temperature, humidity, or moisture levels. This technique is particularly useful for identifying patterns or trends over time.
Creating detailed reports that summarize findings and recommendations is essential to communicating the results of the drone inspection to stakeholders. Reports should be easy to understand and include visual aids such as charts and graphs. Additionally, the reports should highlight the areas of concern and provide actionable recommendations to address them.
Up to this point, we have given you all the important details about drone inspections, like the types of drones and how drone inspections work.
Now the question arises, which is the best drone for inspections?
Let’s find out.
We have compiled a list of drones that we feel are the best for inspection.
|Best Drone For Home Inspectors||Yuneec H520, DJI Matrice 300|
|Best Drone For Roof Inspections||Parrot Anafi, Autel Evo 2 Pro RTK|
|Best Drone For Cell Tower Inspection||Phantom 4 Pro, M30T, M300|
|Best Drone For Bridge Inspections||DJI Matrice 300 RTK, Mavic Inspire 2|
|Best Drone For Powerline Inspections||DJI Matrice 300 RTK, Phantom 4 Pro|
|Best Wind Turbine Inspection Drone||Mavic 2 Pro|
|Best Drone For Pipeline Inspection||DJI Matrice 300 RTK, Mavic 2 Enterprise|
Now let’s have a glimpse of why it is important for you to fly legally and safely.
While drones can be incredibly useful in inspections and increase safety, companies should ensure that their users operate drones legally. Untrained drone pilots can crash, cause damage to the environment, and even harm workers.
According to a study by UF/IFAS, between 2015 and 2020, approximately 4,250 people were injured by drones. The study also showed that 21% of those injured were under the age of 18, and 84% of the patients were male.
Hence, it is important to consider legal and regulatory compliance before flying inspection missions.
Energy inspections are typically conducted in accordance with API (American Petroleum Institute) rules.
In contrast, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) creates codes for the development, fabrication, and assessment of boilers and pressure vessels.
There are a number of institutions, including API and ASME, that design standards and educational resources to carry out examinations in various sectors. In most countries around the world, their standards are usually regulated by law.
Moreover, to operate a drone legally while performing inspections through drones, pilots must follow Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) drone regulations as well as laws put forth by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates all civil aircraft operations in the United States, whether they are manned or unmanned. For more information on FAA drone regulations that pilots should follow when operating drones, click here.
Note: Regulations can vary depending on the industry, state, and type of drone mission being undertaken. Please check local regulations or consult an attorney before flying.
Just like any other field, the inspection sector also has some limitations on using drones. Let’s uncover them in the following section.
While drone inspections offer significant advantages over traditional inspection methods, there are also some limitations:
Despite these limitations, drones are quickly becoming the standard over traditional inspection methods.
Moreover, with the ongoing development of drone technology, many of these limitations will eventually be a thing of the past.
As the technology advances and becomes more widely accepted, the potential uses and scope of drone inspections are only expected to grow.
The market for Drone Inspection Services is estimated to be worth US$ 2 billion.
The use of drones for inspections has become a valuable tool across various industries such as infrastructure, agriculture, and energy.
With the continuous advancements in technology, the future of drone inspections looks promising.
Fact.MR predicts that the worldwide market for offshore drone inspection will attain a value of US$ 421.6 million by 2023, with an anticipated 13% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) leading to a final valuation of US$ 1,456.8 million by the close of 2033.
Here is what we think in terms of the future outlook of drone inspection:
As drones become more refined, we can expect them to use AI and ML to automatically analyze images and data collected during inspections. This will enable faster and more accurate identification of defects and other issues, reducing the need for human intervention.
Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology uses lasers to create 3D maps of structures and environments. LiDAR-equipped drones can be used for high-precision inspections of infrastructure, such as bridges and wind turbines, as well as for mapping and surveying.
AR technology allows for the overlaying of digital information in the real world. This can be used in drone inspections to provide real-time data and visualizations, helping inspectors identify potential issues and make more informed decisions.
A swarm of drones can work together to cover larger areas or complete complex tasks. This technology can be particularly useful for large-scale inspections or in hard-to-reach areas.
Drone swarm technology enables the collaboration of multiple UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) to execute diverse tasks that are either too complex or too inefficient for a single drone to perform alone.
The ability of drones to harvest energy from the environment, such as solar power or wind power, will enable longer flight times and reduce the need for manual charging or battery replacement.
Overall, the future of drone inspections looks promising, with the emergence of new technologies that will enable faster, more accurate inspections with greater automation and reduced human intervention.
According to a report, a significant number of America’s bridges are aging, with 42% of all bridges at least 50 years old and 7.5% structurally deficient.
According to an additional source, the infrastructure in the United States is extensive and requires maintenance. It has over 160,000 bridges, 140,000 miles of rail, 835,000 kilometers of pipeline, 4 million miles of road, 60,000 substations, 90,000 oil and gas wells, 6,500 large active mines, 550,000 cell towers, between 160,000 and 200,000 miles of high-voltage power lines, and an additional 5.5 million miles of residential power lines.
This cannot be done by traditional methods using fifty-year-old snooper trucks, and workers climbing on ropes may not be sufficient to inspect all the infrastructure effectively. Therefore, drones are a natural choice for inspecting and maintaining the country’s vast infrastructure network.
The good news is that the Biden administration’s infrastructure proposal promises to invest a historic amount of money in building and reinvigorating the country’s infrastructure and human capital. The proposal also emphasizes the use of drones to modernize America’s infrastructure.
As a result, America is not only fixing its outdated infrastructure but also advancing and modernizing it.
Drone inspection has emerged as a powerful and reliable solution for inspection and data analysis in different industries. By mastering the art of drone inspections, you can help businesses improve their safety protocols, increase efficiency, and save time and money.
To get started in this burgeoning industry and learn from industry experts, be sure to check out Drone U’s membership.
Inside the Drone U membership, you will discover 40+ courses, from photography, videography, and mapping to surveying, 3D modeling, and inspections.
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