How drone tech has evolved over 10 years

Photo: Graham Jepson

Trendspek's founders were airline pilots for 20 years before launching one of Australia’s first commercial drone businesses, Hoverscape. Inspired by the unlimited potential of drones, they next launched a software using drone capture to give asset owners the power to digitally inspect infrastructure anywhere in the world.

Here, they reflect on the advancements made in drone technology over the last decade, where Trendspek fits into the landscape and what comes next to ensure safe and efficient use of drones across critical infrastructure sectors.

The power of purpose in an increasingly competitive market

Derek Feebrey: Where the first computer once filled the entire room and now fits in a transportable laptop bag, the same can be said for the drone industry. They are becoming smaller, safer and more accurate, to the point where you can complete a full inspection of large-scale infrastructure such as ports and dams with a robotic device that fits in the palm of your hand.

With recent advancements in sensor technology, today, drones can autonomously takeoff, land and follow a pre-programmed flight path to capture previously hard-to-reach areas. Across all sectors of the infrastructure industry, organisations are leveraging drone tech to better manage large asset portfolios — even developing their own internal drone programmes and training their teams to use them.

As drones continue to develop, become easier to operate and release new features — such as advanced imaging sensors, LiDAR and thermal — organisations are being enabled to do more with less, especially in a period of skills shortages.

How is Trendspek different? We are dedicated to a clearly defined purpose and vision to enhance, optimise and empower the infrastructure industry to have 360 high-fidelity views of assets and to make smarter, safer and more cost-efficient decisions. We recreate the O&M process digitally, to provide complete and accurate asset information that is based on evidence, provides context and is multipurpose.

(L-R: Fiona Church, Derek Feebrey and Mitch Deam)

The evolution of drone pilot and maintaining best practice

Mitch Deam: Regulations have improved the standards of commercial drone use, but we must continue to bring an aviation mindset to the industry to champion safety and best practice.

The rise of drone piloting has been an interesting development. With rapid advancements being made to release more automated, AI-powered drones, pilots are evolving their skillset to develop in areas of operation, maintenance and management of larger fleets to conduct more specialised tasks as a part of a widely adopted technology push.

Trendspek partners with leading drone service providers such as Coptrz and Skydio to provide enterprise-level inspection services across a vast array of industries. As drones are still widely an "off the shelf" industry, it's crucial to work alongside trusted manufacturers that operate with the highest standards to ensure safe, accurate and secure drone capture.

Drones are just the beginning — it's how we use them that counts

Fiona Church: We've had to learn that "it's not about the drones". There are a myriad of use cases and applications for drone technology, but the industry has had to learn that it’s not really about the drone at all - it’s about outcomes for a client. What are our clients trying to achieve with the data? How is it making their life, processes easier or more efficient? The drone is a tool to achieve an outcome, but not the outcome itself.

Change takes time and persistence. Drones have the ability to disrupt entire ways of working, some which have been entrenched for decades. Changing the way an organisation operates is hard, so showing them how others have been successful, and leading them along the path to success is key.

Increasingly, it’s also about managing expectations and moving away from a “drones can do everything, right?” mindset.

Naturally, drones evoke a sense of the future, and imaginations often run wild as to what the possibilities are. Many of us in the industry have learnt to carefully manage expectations. The full ‘utopia’ may not be possible today, but is a new way of operating using drones still a huge leap forward? Of course it!

Keeping things in perspective, most existing practices prior to using drones are involve labour intensive, slow and rely on manual processes.

To succeed in the drone tech industry, it’s also crucial to have good allies. Drone service providers should ask themselves: what are you good at, and where do you need help?

If your expertise is around flying drones, complying with regulations, and meeting the technical requirements of the job — you may not have the expertise to pursue big contracts with enterprise customers. In this scenario, complimentary partnerships and allies in the industry can not only help you expand your business, but help you generate repeat business through a joint value proposition.

What are the key advancements in drones over the last 10 years?

  • Australia was one of the first countries to introduce regulations for using drones. In 2002, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) introduced regulations to ensure the safe and responsible operation of drones for commercial purposes that included strict safety guidelines around flying near people and over populous regions, flying within a certain distance of buildings, altitude limits and mandatory training including RePL operator licenses, safety guidelines.
  • Drones are more integrated and automated. Today, AI-powered drones are able to take off, land and follow pre-programmed grids autonomously without manual piloting. This has allowed drone tech to tap into hard-to-reach areas for extended aerial coverage.
  • Drone operators are more specialised now, less “one-size-fits-all”. Back in the day, many pilots were flying drones for multiple use cases (photography, filming, surveying, and more). The drone pilots that were successful in these formative years started specialising in one particular applications, which has led to an expanded industry and the development of specific skills.

How Trendspek is using drones to change the status quo

Trendspek takes drone data, or high-res images, and converts them to produce Precision Reality Twins, which are then processed into an interactive 3D model with down-to-the-millimetre detail. Our cloud-based platform transforms thousands of images and automatically processes them into an exact digital replica of a structure, saving asset owners, engineers and property surveyors up to weeks and months of time that would otherwise be spent manually creating a PDF report.

With Trendspek’s Precision Asset Intelligence platform, you can zoom in and orbit around a high-fidelity 3D model — so detailed you can see paint flaking, hairline cracks and corrosion in concrete. You can also take measurements with millimetre accuracy, and mark-up within the platform to produce interactive reports.

Making it easier to identify risks and collaborate

Trendspek makes it easy to take action on any risks identified in your interactive reports. With advanced collaboration tools, you can bring all stakeholders together and securely share access with subject matter experts to plan investigations or design remediation works.

You can also share access with maintenance contractors to get accurate quotes and eliminate any unnecessary costs, all without needing a site visit or even leaving your desk.

Once everything is completed, users can overlay a new scan for quality assurance. Trendspek’s evidence-based records provide defect liability protection and the ability to track change over time, to help plan future maintenance.

Ready to be empowered? Learn more about Trendspek

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