One of the UK’s leading public and regulated services providers has partnered with a UK company at the forefront of autonomous drone research to develop a system that could revolutionize infrastructure asset inspections.
Officially launched at this year’s Farnborough International Airshow, the new joint venture (JV) between global asset management consultancy Amey and world-leading drone technology experts VTOL Technologies will use precision, long-range drones to transform asset management inspections, which will make it safer, quicker and easier to assess vital infrastructure, such as roads, bridges and railways.
The AmeyVTOL JV’s unique, patented, unmanned, autonomous drone, known as The Flying Wing, is at the forefront of long-range, beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS), remotely piloted aerial systems (RPAS) and autonomous drone technology worldwide, and offers a number of benefits that traditional drones fall short of.
Current techniques for many asset and infrastructure inspection tasks, such as manned helicopters and foot patrols, are becoming expensive and often lack the required level of repeatability that opens doors to advanced data-processing technologies and trend data analysis. Companies have started to use drones operating Within-Visual-Line-Of-Sight (WVLOS) for infrastructure inspections, but these have endurance, precision flight and range limitations.
To achieve the end goal of fully automated inspection processes, three critical technologies are being combined in The Flying Wing: high-accuracy GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System); both short-range and medium-range, miniaturized collision-avoidance systems; and persistent Beyond-Visual-Line-Of-Sight (BVLOS) communications technologies.
Combining an advanced flying-wing aerofoil that is able to provide high lift at low speeds and low drag at high speed, with four ducted-fan rotors that operate as pairs, The Flying Wing will carry ground penetrating radar, high definition video and still cameras, and infrared, thermal and lidar sensors, among others. It can take off and land anywhere, travel up to 93 miles (150km) at speeds of up to 37mph (60km/h), and change direction to precisely map the same route over and over, regardless of weather conditions. It also has the added benefit of capturing data in real time and streaming it live to a data processing engine.
“Doing more with less is a challenge most businesses will understand. As asset managers, we’re often asked to deliver cost efficiencies for our clients, while increasing inspections to meet the growing demands on the UK’s networks,” noted Richard Butterfield, AmeyVTOL’s service development director. “Using this cutting-edge technology to inspect the vital infrastructure that we all rely on, is a world first. It will change the way we inspect assets forever, allowing us to assess at the touch of a button, make real-time recommendations, and potentially save millions of pounds for our clients.”
Mark Shaw, director for AmeyVTOL, said, “Our unique and patented Flying Wing outperforms existing drones and represents the future of aerial inspections. We’re really excited to be introducing this market-leading technology, which will revolutionize the asset management industry to deliver repeatable, consistent and accurate inspections, as early as 2018.”