The use of drone can bring significant advantages to the world of inspections. Inspecting power lines, telecommunications towers and bridges particularly can put inspectors at risk of falls and electric shock. Aside from safety concerns, significant cost savings are another benefit of using drone.

Several industry commentators have shared their thoughts on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for inspections.

Joseph Sowell, manager of member planning services for Georgia Transmission Corporation explains there are a myriad of reasons for replacing helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft with drones for inspections. He surmises, “drones will be safer than helicopters, and you can’t put a price on that.” Helicopter time can cost in excess of $15,000 per job.

Back in 2015, Donald McDaniel, engineering supervisor at United Power in Brighton, Colorado foresaw the advantage of UAVs, offering safe, quick inspections of hard-to-access distribution lines.

“When the technology is ready, I would like to perform inspections on lines in rugged terrain and on private rights-of-way,” he commented. “This may consist of video with GPS, infrared, and LiDAR inspections. After major storms, we send one- and two-man teams out to inspect damage. Often the roads are difficult to impassable. The day may come when this work could be accomplished more safely and efficiently with drones.”

McDaniel’s wish list for UAVs is well on its way to being fulfilled.

Two UAVs already competing in the inspections niche are senseFly’s albris and the Yuneec Typhoon H.

With the albris you can switch between capturing video, still and thermal imagery during the same flight, without landing to change cameras. The field of view remains unobstructed throughout the 180º vertical range of motion allowing you to capture clear and stabilized imagery ahead, above and below the drone. The albris features five dual-sensor modules, positioned around the drone.

Typhoon H

The Yuneec Typhoon H has retractable landing gear which means you can raise the landing gear up and down whilst in flight permitting the camera to fully rotate without the view being obstructed by the landing gear. Unfortunately, the battery is only rated to do 22 minutes of flight time. The aircraft has also been criticized for its limited obstacle avoidance capabilities, inconsistent general performance and lack of features specific to conducting inspections.

In recent weeks, drone industry leader DJI has announced an enterprise class of drone called the M200.

There are three important model distinctions in the M200 family.

The M200 itself has a single downward camera whereas the M210 can have a single downward, single upward or dual downward cameras and has additional connectivity ports to support third party sensors and accessories. Using the upper camera allows the operator to look up, allowing small cracks to be seen when conducting inspections. The M210 will be able to support additional sensors in the future.

Finally, the M210 RTK is identical to the M210 but has an additional RTK unit which ensures centimeter precision navigation.

All the M200 models are water resistant with an IP43 rating. The aircraft also has a hot-swappable dual battery system and a 35-minute flight time which helps in conducting longer inspections. The aircraft’s safety features include obstacle avoidance sensors facing forward, up and down, as well as an ADS-B receiver for receiving advisory information from manned aircraft close by. The M200 series is compatible with the DJI GO 4 , DJI GS Pro and DJI Pilot app. Compatible cameras are the DJI XT, X4S, X5S and Z30. With the Z30 the operator can zoom in for closer inspection and with the XT they can see heat signatures.

DJI’s M200 family of drones has been excitedly welcomed by inspections industry commentators.

Although senseFly’s albris and the Yuneec Typhoon H are certainly credible aircraft,

DJI’s incredible innovations with the M200 have firmly placed this model at the forefront of drones tailored to the inspections industry.