DroneDivision sets out to inspect critical infrastructure
Article from EUKA in Dutch: https://euka.flandersmake.be/dronedivision-zet-in-op-het-inspecteren-van-kritische-infrastructuur/
DroneDivision started in 2017. Founded by a technical team with years of experience in both telecom, electricity and thermography. DroneDivision mainly focused on inspections on telecom infrastructure and industry. Is It A Plane was founded in 2018 with the idea of making inspections in high-risk industrial environments safer and more efficient. “Is It A Plane was immediately the first company in Belgium to bet on a combination of drone technology, software development and data analysis,” claims Stefaan Degryse, co-founder of DroneDivision. “From the start, some challenging projects were brought in. The results of these projects made the press both at home and abroad.”
During reference projects of Is It A Plane worked together with the DroneDivision team. The complementarity of both teams quickly became clear. There was good cooperation, smooth communication, and the willingness to make every project a success. We had a common goal and shared the same values. A merger of DroneDivision and Is It A Plane in 2020 was the next step in a rapidly evolving solution-oriented market. Thus, from now on they will continue under the name DroneDivision.
Today, inspections at height are mainly performed by people, using a ladder, aerial work platform, scissor lift or via rope techniques. Working at height means an increased risk of accidents, is time-consuming and hardly allows difficult or inaccessible places to be visualised. In certain situations, it is even necessary to take the installation to be inspected out of service.
Drones are the ideal tool for reducing the risks associated with working at height. Using the right drone sensor, data can be collected in a consistent manner. A well thought out plan of approach allows difficult to reach places to be visualised from a safe distance of the object. Once the data has been acquired, the processing and analysis of a report tailored to the customer’s needs begins.
“In a first phase, the human interpretation of the processing process is mapped out together with the client. Once we have a good understanding of what the customer wants to see or be reported, an algorithm is developed,” says Degryse, “This algorithm is able to analyse data in an automated way. In this way, time-consuming human interpretation is reduced as much as possible.”
In the next phase, the entire flow from drone data capture over analysis to reporting will be automated into one. “DroneDivision’s ‘flying robots’ make it possible to significantly improve and digitise customers’ business processes. We are flying our customers into the industry 4.0 era.”
DroneDivision’s main focus is performing inspections on critical infrastructure. Critical infrastructure is a broad term, but the algorithms and automation already developed are mainly focused on five major themes: high voltage, telecom, infrastructure, renewable energy and environment. “Inspecting high voltage and telecom requires a thorough technical knowledge. The drone flight is only one part of the entire process from data capture to reporting. For our customers in high voltage and telecom a fully automated process was developed to detect anomalies from drone data.”
The information ends up in a detailed report, which contains essential information about the current state of the infrastructure, displayed in a digital twin. A system was also developed to measure millimetres accurately. This makes it possible to precisely follow the wear and tear of various parts of a mast. In this way, the customer not only receives a detailed report with all anomalies, but also a complete overview of the columns to be replaced.
“The potential of this in-house developed technology was quickly picked up by the various corporate customers active in these sectors,” continues Degryse, “Cost savings compared to their current way of working have been rewarded with some long-term contracts for inspections at home and abroad. The infrastructure department specialises in photogrammetry for infrastructure works and inspections on concrete (bridges, roads, buildings). For infrastructure we provide operational support and specialised software regarding surveying (photogrammetry).”
Inspection of concrete
In order to get a clear view of the needs, wishes and costs of a concrete inspection, it was decided to carry out a feasibility study. Through this feasibility study, not only the need for new techniques related to the inspection of bridges, roads and buildings became clear, but also the need for a more efficient and cost-effective way of working. “During an intensive period of data acquisition, we succeeded in training an algorithm for specific concrete-technical problems.”
The algorithm enables DroneDivision to detect, segment, localise and report on various anomalies. Based on the data and feedback from the first customers, the algorithm will be made even more robust. In the renewable energy market, DroneDivision is mainly active in monitoring PV installations. The exceptionally good weather in 2020 brought the counter to more than 500,000 inspected solar panels. For example, the largest solar park in Europe (Kristalpark in Lommel) was inspected by Engie and displayed in a digital portal.
Measurement of air pollution
And last but not least, there is the environment department. Commissioned by the environment department of the Flemish government, DroneDivision carried out a policy-preparing study on the use of drones for environment enforcement. Several innovative remote sensing techniques were included in this study and compared to traditional measurement methods. In cooperation with partner Olfascan, a new technique was developed to carry out real-time air emission measurements with a drone equipped with a lab.
This technique allows measurements to be taken quickly, efficiently and safely, even in places that are difficult or inaccessible using traditional measurement methods. Up to 5 sensors per flight can transmit real-time measurements to a ground station. These measurements provide important information about air quality. It can be used to trace the source of pollution, display dispersion and map chemical composition or individual components in a large area (port/industry). The result is a comprehensive report with policy-defining proposals.
“Drones are now making it possible to solve problems for which there has been no practical solution for years. The drone is becoming more and more of a tool, a means to gain insights quickly and efficiently. The maturing process is the breeding ground for many established companies that are gradually realising what the drone can do for them and are using their own operational drone teams in their existing business operations. The only drawback is the narrow legislative framework and the slow adaptation of regulations within the various geozones. So companies with their own drone teams soon come knocking on the door of specialists like DroneDivision.”
A tip for companies that have had a negative experience before: “Contact a professional operator like DroneDivision. You will be amazed by the possibilities that are also relevant to you.
The drone is not a dream, and we firmly believe that we can create efficiency gains or new opportunities for your company as well,” says Degryse.
DroneDivision is now well beyond the start-up phase. With a complementary team of experts recognised by the market, they saw their growth continue to accelerate right through the COVID-19 crisis. “With a nice portfolio of customers, scalable solutions and long term contracts in our pocket, it is time for the next step in our growth story. This year we will be raising external capital. This should allow us to accelerate the roll-out of our solutions to a wider audience. DroneDivision also continues to look for new talent to help write the next chapter of this success story. After all, the innovation hunger is far from satisfied,” concludes Degryse.
With great thanks to EUKA: https://euka.flandersmake.be/dronedivision-zet-in-op-het-inspecteren-van-kritische-infrastructuur/