Precise Location Key to Usable Data for Energy Sector
Source: Inside Unmanned Systems
The critical overall requirements for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) operating in the energy sector are, naturally, reliability and productivity. Reliability takes on added significance in sectors that represent millions of dollars of investment. No margin for error can be tolerated in such complex environments. The distance from an in-flight UAV to the industrial asset that it is observing or inspecting obviously has critical importance for safety, data precision and cost-effectiveness.

The advantages that UAVs offer, on the other hand, are abundant and attractive: more effective inspection, surveillance services and asset management processes, at costs that are a fraction of traditional methods such as helicopters or deploying an army of inspectors on foot.

As always, balancing device size, weight and power (SWaP) with cost constitutes a significant challenge. But savings in any of these factors cannot come at the expense of precision. Data gathered on infrastructure maintenance needs is only useful if it can be quickly and easily geo-referenced, with maintenance crews efficiently dispatched. For this, precise position and orientation of the inspection device must be provided at all times.


An early provider of UAVs specialized to the energy sector, the Belgian company Airobot first produced an anti-collision system in 2015 to enable a drone to carry out close inspections. Lessons learned in the early going informed current offerings of flying robots equipped with artificial intelligence (AI) for automated, accurate data collection.

The first mission was to gather data concerning defects or damage to large outdoor structures. The Ranger was installed aboard a drone employed to take photographs of high surfaces and inaccessible areas. It enabled safe operation and furnished further data, which in turn supported calculation of the size of the photographed defects.

The Ranger product kept the drone at a set distance, usually no less than 3 meters from any structure. The remote pilot could control up and down movement of the drone, but not approach any closer. The product saw early use in several industrial sectors with large outdoor installations that required close monitoring, including oil refineries and storage silos.

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