A step-by-step guide to using drones for asset inspection

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Regularly inspecting and surveying physical assets in the property, energy, oil and gas or infrastructure space is a challenging and time-consuming task. More often than not, they are positioned in hard-to-reach and precarious locations – such as a high-rise building in the CBD, or an oil rig in a remote area.

As a result, the use of commercial drones for asset inspection and digital management has become increasingly popular in recent years. An evolving technology that is ‘taking off’ in all senses of the phrase, drones are able to efficiently capture data and provide visual inspections of difficult-to-reach structures, from buildings and bridges to power lines and wind turbines.

But where do you start with using drones for asset inspections, and how does it work? Furthermore, who can support you?

While quite straightforward, the logistics of drone capture and digital modelling requires careful planning and execution to ensure the data collected is accurate, secure, and able to be used for its desired purpose. And with the right support, resources and equipment, it is even easier.

At Trendspek, we live and breathe the benefits of using drones for asset inspections and digital management. Our Precision Asset Intelligence technology is a world-first software solution to truly capitalise on the unprecedented volume of data that can be captured via drone and transform it into a useful format.

Rather than manually taking photographs for a PDF report, drone capture allows you to take hundreds of thousands of data points down to the millimetre and stitch them into interactive, 3D models that can be viewed by stakeholders anywhere in the world.

With over a decade of experience in undertaking drone capture, Trendspek supports its clients end-to-end through the process of drone asset inspections – which hardware to use, how to fly, scanning assets methodically and overall tips and tricks. We can get involved in their existing drone programs, or often, simply do the drone capture for them.

Read on for a step-by-step guide for how we can support you in drone asset inspection and digital asset management.

Need to determine the distance to fly your drone for optimal capture? Use our resolution calculator to determine the distance to capture your desired resolution.

Step 1: Client and Trendspek become a team

In the first instance, we work with clients who set out to complete their own drone capture using their own equipment.To assist, Trendspek becomes an extension of their drone team, fully supporting their program, helping with reviewing their asset structure and offering consultation capabilities – whatever questions or advice they may need, we’re all ears.

Step 2: The checklist

When we become part of the client’s drone team, we will work closely with them to ensure they have everything in place to obtain the best results. Here is the,checklist we use as a starting point to assess needs and make plans, customising as needed.

Step 3: Pre-flight tips

Make the right camera selection

Choosing the right camera for the job is important and depends on a number of factors, including the asset that is being captured, the location, how close you can fly to the asset and how high you will be flying overall. We work with our clients to assess equipment they have access to, point them in the right direction of a reliable supplier, or we make the arrangements ourselves.

Get the best camera sensors

Focusing on camera sensors is important. Yes, you can capture an asset at your targeted resolution using any camera. But considering which sensors you use is what matters the most.

The larger-format sensors will produce superior image quality, with added benefits of being able to fly higher, capturing more of the asset in one frame, and needing fewer flight lines, making it significantly quicker to capture.

Refine your camera settings

Once you have your camera selection and sensors in place, it is important to look at:

  • Exposure – the ideal lighting conditions typically occurring on an overcast day
  • White balance – select a manual white balance to suit the lighting conditions
  • Image ratio – use the camera’s biggest pixel count (usually 4:3 or 3:2)
  • Focus – ensure this is set, in order to avoid images that reduce the quality of the asset

Plan for transition photos

It is important to plan for transitional imagery during the capture to avoid incomplete or fragmented corners or tower structures.

Target specific resolutions

When targeting a specific resolution, ensure accuracy when calculating the offset distance and adhere to it closely.

Capture overlap

Aim for the right balance of overlap to model the digital reconstruction – we recommend an overlap of 75/75.

In-flight tips

Position data

For consistent positioning data, we recommend PPK/RTK capable drones that automatically log image positions.

Flight speed

There are several items to consider when selecting a flight speed, including minimising ‘motion blur’, the camera’s ability to achieve continuous shots and the camera settings.

Towers, facades, linear assets

Depending on the asset being captured, we will provide insights and recommendations on how to fly around each asset -- whether it is a tower, facade or linear asset, as examples.

Step 4: Post flight tips

Once the drone capture has taken place, the footage is reviewed against the pre-flight and in-flight checklists above to ensure the images are in focus, the exposure is balanced, and sufficient overlap was captured.

We will also look to undertake a review of that process once the data is modelled to identify what went well, and where the client could improve. We’re an open book and value honesty and transparency to achieve the best results for our clients.

What are the challenges?

As part of our clients’ drone team, we provide support and guidance wherever we can, including identifying common challenges with drone capture. These can include:

  • Setting up the scan itself
  • The type of camera and lens combination to use
  • How far they should fly away from the asset to get a resolution they are targeting
  • Certain distance and overlap in each photo
  • Certain amount of transition photos when going around corners
How does Trendspek help?

Yes, there are always going to be challenges, but that’s what we’re here for – to get the best results for our clients. Not only do we help with becoming part of the drone team and offering our advice and checklist to achieve the best capture, we then take the data captured and use our Precision Asset Intelligence platform to create Precision Reality Twins (PRT).

PRTs enable accurate zoom to sub-millimetre detail, unlimited 360-degree movement around the asset, and a complete picture, in full context, of every facade and feature.

Reassuringly a lot of the challenges are in simple common areas – the photos don’t focus, data is missing. Often it’s the little things that make such a big difference to the overall outcome.

By supporting our clients and becoming part of their drone team, we can ensure the process is not only smooth throughout, but is working towards the primary end goal – cohesive PRTs that the client can use.

Many of our clients have their own internal drone capabilities, but knowing that we are here for them with support, guidance, experience and drone software on offer helps them overcome these challenges and minimise barriers.

Trendspek captures for the client using our partner network

When we’re not becoming part of a client’s internal drone team, we’re completing the drone captures ourselves for them – using our partner network.

This is the beauty of what we do here at Trendspek – we can support you in whatever capacity you need.

The checklist

In addition to following the checklist mentioned above and using our Precision Asset Intelligence software and PRTs, we undertake the following steps when we’re capturing for our clients:

  1. Digital assessment of the site: using available street view/Google maps
  2. Assessment of related air space around the asset: making sure we can fly there
  3. Identification of any obstructions that can inhibit the capture: trees, neighbouring properties, etc.
  4. Set up of the full plan: where the drone team will take off and land, and scan that particular asset, how long it will take in terms of flight time, how many photos are required, and how much time is needed overall

Once we have these in place, we will then go to our partner networks to implement the drone capture.

A final quote

When it comes to drone captures, our CEO and co-founder Derek Feebrey says:

“We’re only as good as our client's capture. Regardless of whether they capture themselves or we do it for them, we want to empower our clients in order to get the best results. The more people can impart all of our knowledge on and the bigger the network becomes, the more empowered our clients are.”

Download our free Capture Guide: Pro tips for a better drone capture

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