The need to monitor in detail an infrastructure in a systematic way (high repetitiveness level), both of the infrastructure itself and its territory of influence, to obtain detailed, accurate information and in a short time it is currently a strategic activity for public bodies or the owner companies.
The possibility of using UAS in the monitoring of large linear infrastructures is already a reality and with it opens a wide range of possibilities hitherto unpublished in this area; monitoring, mapping and management support from intelligent image processing.
¿Why can UAS flights be now safely addressed for monitoring large linear infrastructures?
Well, basically a set of technical developments supported by current legislation (Spanish and European):
a) Fixed-wing drones, weighing less than 4 kg and great flight autonomy (greater than 80 min), are perfectly usable on flights in the BVLOS mode (flights beyond the line of sight) facilitating work at 80-100 km from the UAS base of operations;
b) The use of 3G / 4G telecommunications (future 5G) overcomes the limitations of radio control (distance and orography) located a few km from the launch and control point of the UAS.
These two characteristics allow us to erase pre-existing limitations at a stroke and open us technically and mentally to propose a new typology of projects with UAS, overcoming the typical drone flight scheme, linking this to an operation with a multicopter in visual flight, time of short flight (around 30 min.) and over a small area of few hectares.
UAS flights for large infrastructures, ¿what users and uses are we thinking?
Railway and high-capacity road networks, electricity networks, pipelines, high and gas water pipes hundreds of kilometers long and also large sensitive infrastructures (ports, airports) are the main infrastructures to which this type of solutions is aimed .
Companies in the infrastructure (road, rail) and utilities sectors (hydrocarbons, gas, electricity, water), public planning, execution and management agencies, concession and service contracting companies and engineering and construction companies are the main users .
The “fixed-wing” UAS allow to cover, at a reasonable cost and reduced time, many of the inspection activities that are currently carried out with other procedures, the performance of new activities that were not previously approachable and the inclusion of the data obtained in the information and management systems of the responsible agencies.
UAS services can be substitutes and complementary to other technologies (field inspection, helicopter flight, high resolution satellite image). See for example, the momit project.
The enumeration of potential uses is long, we can indicate those main uses:
- Infrastructure management and control;
- Asset inspection – early detection (detection of changes and incidents);
- Monitoring of the execution of works;
- Infrastructure mapping and its update;
- Monitoring of the network and facilities in emergency situations;
- Geological risk monitoring in sensitive sectors of the network;
- “Vegetation encroachment.”
The two main themes in infrastructure monitoring
In most of the uses mentioned above, the basic products of monitoring are of the “cartographic” type, that is, they are based on the elaboration of thematic cartographies (with great detail in image resolution and cartographic precision), with a certain annual repetitiveness ( scheduled UAS flights), which are inserted in the information systems of the management companies and which are generally accompanied by status reports or incidents for each of the topics addressed.
The nature of the product (monitoring, detection of changes and its cartography) on a changing “reality”, makes this type of theme will have continuity for a long time.
On the other hand, the current capabilities of 3G / 4G telephony networks allow the real time data and images transmission from the operating UAS (or UAS fleet) to the control centers, facilitating not only the generation of fast cartographies, but also the treatment of the images (video included) crossed with other databases, as strategic support for the decision making live in the infrastructure management.
In this non-cartographic processing of images, new developments related to computer vision, artificial intelligence, deep learning and big data play a special role. Examples of this type of real-time solutions are those for traffic control or emergency management of infrastructure.
Only linear infrastructures?
The use of fixed-wing drones for the monitoring of large linear infrastructures and their characteristics (long-distance BVLOS operation typology, telecommunications, data and image transmission and post-process) are extrapolated to other environments that are not infrastructures but share some common characteristics, such as a large path length and a reduced area of influence located at both margins of its route.
We highlight two environments, which due to their characteristics (environmental and territorial) in the interface between natural processes and human activity also require, for proper management, the performance of inspection work with a high annual repeatability. We are talking about the coast monitoring and the hydrographic network whose management responsibility lies with various public bodies (ministries and departments of the environment, hydrographic confederations and departments of territory and urban planning).