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Improving wind energy surveying with automated industrial drones

May 27, 2019, 9:42 am

The wind energy industry is no stranger to innovation. After all, with its quick and exponential growth over the last decade, including an expansion into off-shore wind farms, the wind energy industry is a bit of an innovation itself in a world that has long been reliant on fossil fuels.

So it makes a perfect kind of sense that the wind energy industry has to fully embrace technological innovations in order to keep expanding successfully and safely at the rate our world requires. One of those innovations directly impacts wind energy surveying, and it’s set to overhaul the entire process.

Drones for wind energy surveying

Drone survey technology has been gaining ground in the wind energy industry, so to speak, because the issues with traditional forms of wind energy surveying are obvious. Aerial-based surveying using manned aerial vehicles like small planes or helicopters is expensive, sometimes prohibitively so, as well as potentially dangerous for the pilots and passengers.

While ground-based surveying is less expensive, it still comes with a significant cost as surveyors have to be paid for the days they spend onerously traversing sites to gather measurements. Additionally, considering the remote and dangerous terrain that has to be surveyed such as cliffs, hilltops, moorlands, and tidal areas, ground-based surveying isn’t without its own stark risks for employees.

Further, both air-based and ground-based surveying methods are at the mercy of the elements. Wind energy organizations can find themselves deciding between putting pilots, surveyors and other employees at risk in subpar weather, or incurring costly delays waiting for better conditions. An ugly quandary, to be sure.

These are some of the main reasons drone surveying is so invaluable to the wind energy industry. Industrial drones can access any and all sites in even poor weather conditions without any risk to humans and can do so more quickly and typically with more cost-effectiveness than manned aerial vehicle or ground-based surveying techniques. Leading industrial drones can be equipped with photogrammetry or LIDAR sensors that use millions of points for the most precise geospatial information and high-resolution imagery. This results in the most accurate topographic surveys, digital elevation models, oblique panoramic photos and orthophotos for assessing site viability, planning site layouts, generating three-dimensional visualizations, calculating earthworks volumes, monitoring construction, and more.

The further advantage of automation

If there’s one drawback of drone surveying undertaken by standard industrial UAVs, it’s that while they may be less expensive than using manned aerial vehicles for surveying, there can remain a question of whether they’re less expensive than ground-based surveying in some applications. Either way, with the cost of a drone pilot factored in, they aren’t necessarily a cost-effective option.

This is where automation has to come in. For a truly improved surveying process, wind energy companies need to invest in automated industrial drones that are fully capable of flying themselves, including the launch and the landing as well as automated data capture and data processing. This eliminates the significant expense of a pilot, the scheduling difficulties of coordinating with a pilot, and the chance of human error in the flight or data capture.

Even better, leading automated drones that can change their own sensors can fly a wide variety of missions for wind energy companies, including security, surveillance and inspections.

The sky is the limit

The evolution of wind energy has been an interesting one to watch, and it’s going to continue to be a point of fascination as the industry grows in size as well as importance. Keeping pace with rapid growth without cutting corners or incurring serious consequences is a challenge for any industry undergoing the boom wind energy currently is, but where there’s a will, there’s a way – one that comes in the form of technological developments like automated industrial drones. Offering cost savings, time savings, and the protection of employees, automated drones are the kind of innovation upon which an innovative industry like wind energy is reliant.

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