The future of asset inspection

Richard Butterfield, Professional Excellence Director
29 May 2017
Image of a drone.
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I remember reading an article in The Telegraph a couple of years ago that said drones would soon be a part of day-to-day life, and that people would be bored of them.

While I would agree that a couple of the predictions made were true, for example drone technology has definitely become more mainstream – we’re closer than ever to getting our Amazon deliveries by drone and small smartphone versions can now be bought at the supermarket along with your weekly shopping – many of the drawbacks with traditional industrial drones, like needing a dedicated, trained pilot and observer, or not having enough battery life to carry out significant tasks have not been overcome. Until now.

What the article failed to recognise is that the key to drone success is all in the application. The use of drones might be well established in industries like film or defence but AmeyVTOL – a joint venture that combines Amey’s expertise as global asset managers with world-leading tech experts, VTOL Technologies – is the first to push the benefits of drone inspection capabilities to infrastructure asset management activities. The AmeyVTOL precision, long-range, hybrid drones will transform the industry, making it safer, quicker and easier to survey and assess vital civil infrastructure such as bridges and railways.

Whilst the use of long range drones will offer massive efficiency benefits, safety is arguably the biggest benefit of this technology to the rail sector. It will bring an end to the need for expensive, time-consuming human inspections and surveys where the hazard of moving trains is never far away. Instead, inspectors will be able to monitor a live data feed, in real-time, up to 100km away, and design teams will be able to work with remotely collected geo-spacial survey data. According to the Office of Rail and Road, there were 175 major injuries reported on the mainline network in 2014/15 – a number that we’d all agree is unacceptable – and this technology has a vital role to play in driving this number down to zero.

Aside from helping to protect people, the technology also offers a number of benefits to our clients and customers. Automating rail inspections and surveys means they can be completed in shorter network possessions to reduce service disruption to passenger and freight trains. Inspections can also be repeated, whenever needed – at the touch of a button. This is particularly useful when, as asset managers, we’re asked to deliver cost efficiencies for our clients while increasing inspections to meet the growing demands on the UK’s networks.

Another big benefit of using drone technology to carry out rail inspections is that it gives us the ability to capture multiple data through Ground Penetrating Radar, High Definition video and photogrammetry, Infrared, thermal and Light Detection and Ranging sensors, amongst others, to help us make the right recommendations to asset owners. While it won’t give us the 20:20 vision of hindsight or the ability to predict the future, this technology will enable us to identify potential issues that could slow the rail network down, act before there’s an issue and potentially save millions of pounds for our clients.

Bringing our unique and patented Flying Wing drone to market from as early as 2018 is a significant advancement in changing how we assess the infrastructure that keeps the country moving.  The Flying Wing is the first of its kind; it outperforms existing drones and represents the future of aerial inspections. We’re really excited to be introducing this technology which will revolutionise the asset management industry to deliver repeatable, consistent and accurate inspections. We’re also excited about what it can do across all the markets we work in; the possibilities reach far beyond the remits of the rail industry.

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