From a mechanical standpoint, drones are simple machines. From a practical and economical one, their simple construction and small footprints are disproportionate to the value they provide. Drones are hard to beat when it comes to inspecting structures and studying how humans impact the natural world. Here are a few ways drones play interesting roles in inspections and more than pay for themselves.
Dams are some of the most imposing human-made structures and carry some gravest consequences when they fail. This is why major energy providers like Edison International have turned to drones to improve the speed, frequency and completeness of dam inspections. These are some of the most dangerous and difficult constructs for humans to traverse and inspect closely, but drones make it almost effortless and enable faster interventions than conventional methods.
Drones provide value in more ways than one in dam inspections. Their other advantage concerns data-gathering. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials says historical data on dam performance and failure is scattered and incomplete. Deploying drones for these tasks could yield abundant information that helps decision-makers engage in longer-term planning and better understand the condition and material needs of the infrastructure they oversee.
Proactive Bridge Maintenance
Bridges can be just as difficult to inspect as dams and nearly as dangerous when they fail. These structures are a drain on the economy and a burden on national coffers, too, even at the best of times. But the poor condition of bridges and roads in the United States costs its economy some $120 billion per year in traffic congestion alone.
The economy depends on bridges, which require ongoing inspections and maintenance. Bridges often do not receive the attention they need until significant repairs are necessary – even in wealthy countries – and this only increases traffic slowdowns, frustration and costs.
It typically takes a crew of inspectors eight labor hours to inspect a bridge. In contrast, the same job can be done for just $45 with a remote-operated drone and in a fraction of the time.
Chimney and Smokestack Inspections
It is not the most glamorous or exciting task, but chimney and smokestack inspections are critical for functional homes and safe commercial spaces. At the residential scale, chimney inspections are essential because they protect homeowners from carbon monoxide poisoning and identify problems before they become major cost burdens to repair.
Commercial smokestack inspections are equally essential for similar reasons and others, like regulatory compliance. Drones play a role in both environments because they allow extremely fast visual appraisals of hard-to-reach areas. Some forms of hidden deterioration go unseen until they fail entirely, but drones let people see more clearly and react more quickly.
Oceanographic Research and Climate Surveys
Drones are versatile tools – their many applications go far beyond the built environment to assist scientists, researchers and conservationists worldwide. Given how much of Earth’s surface is covered in water, you might expect people to know more about the ocean.
Thanks to drones, the boundless vasts of the sea are more and more within reach – both above the surface and below. For a start, the world’s waters host elaborate and expensive fact-finding missions to gather weather data, study wildlife population fluctuations and take water temperature readings.
Taking these readings conventionally requires hundreds of buoys, crews, endless fuel for ships and countless labor hours. In contrast, drones are a huge cost-saving asset that greatly expand the area scientific bodies like NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) can study effectively. At a time of coastal degradation, weather extremes and chaotic oceanic conditions wrought by climate change, drones are just the tool humanity needs to broaden the understanding of the planet’s natural and anthropogenic changes.
To bring things closer to home, consider the role drones can play across the world’s active farmlands. Farmers spend incredible numbers of labor hours walking their fields to spot the encroachment of pests, appraise soil and water conditions and determine when to apply pesticides and fertilizers. Having drones make more frequent and detailed surveys will save substantial human effort and support the more conscientious use of material resources. The market for agricultural drones could be worth $5.7 billion by 2025.
Drones – A Natural Fit for Inspections
Drones can carry out hundreds of different tasks far out to sea and much closer to home. The complete list of drone applications is vast and growing longer. It represents untold human hours saved from otherwise tedious, mundane or dangerous – but simultaneously essential – tasks that make life possible. Have you thanked a drone today?