inFlights: It is in our DNA to integrate our drone solutions in existing workflows

inFlights started working with BESIX in November 2017. Together they tested how insights based on drone data can be integrated in the inventory management workflow of BESIX' asphalt production sites. Since February, inFlights provides monthly volume measurements on all Belgian BESIX Infra sites. Next to that they have also inspected hard to reach assets and did thermal infrared analysis of newly finished buildings for Besix.

Milan Reniers (Digital mapping engineer at BESIX): “When we started working with inFlights, our main concern was to be able to get reliable measurements and merge this seemingless in our processes. How did you manage to get this done?”

inFlights: “As a tech-based company that uses drone technology and data to provide insights for industrial businesses, we believe that our clients should not handle or worry about any of the different procedures linked to the flights that need to be performed. That is why it is in our DNA to provide an all-in-one solution for our customers. Once we have analysed their requests, we manage to find the drone pilots, get all the legal procedures done efficiently, supervise the flights and process all the collected data to bring valuable insights for their businesses, all integrated into their processes. In the case of Besix that meant carefully listening to your current processes and making sure that our solution fitted right in. The BESIX team did not need to learn new software because our results were adapted to the existing software.”

M: “You are now the largest drone supplier for BESIX world wide. We feel this is because inFlights willing and able to go the extra mile…”

inFlights: “At inFlights, our main goal is to help the client, and thus to have a close cooperation. We try to be attentive to what the client wants to reach with the flights, and make sure that what we deliver easily fits in the way of working of the client. We adapt ourselves and the output to their current workflow, so that employees do not have to deal with new software etc. Furthermore, being a team of engineers makes the cooperation with clients more powerful. This is especially true when our end product has to answer to various technical requirements.”

M: “What about your platform? What is your vision on that?”

inFlights: “The purpose of the platform is to make things as easy as possible for our clients. Once they are logged in, they can book a flight in just a few clicks. We also make a point of keeping them aware of each step of the procedure. We create transparency towards the client of every step that is taken care off, that is in progress or that will be tackled in a later stage. At the end, clients are able to access all the data and insights they needed via the platform.”

M: “At BESIX, we needed to perform measurements in different sites at the same time, how did you make that possible?”

inFlights: “One of our biggest strengths is working with an important network of certified drone pilots based not only in Belgium, but across the world. That is how we manage to perform different types of flights on short notice. We also make sure that pilots know exactly how to perform the flight, and we focus on legally sound and safe flights. Our long experience in the sector also allows us to be sure that flights are done with the right drone with the right quality.”

M: “Where does inFlights want to be in three years?”

I: “Our main goal is making it even easier to order and follow up drone flights. We will continue integrating our services and the results even better into our clients’ systems.

More importantly, we will invest in developing cutting edge algorithms and processes to ensure the right insights are generated at very high speeds. This will bring substantial time savings to our clients, and hence substantial benefits to the bottom line.”

M: “To conclude: what was your nicest flight with BESIX?”

I: “Well, there are quite a few spectacular flights we had together… Be it standing on the top of a new building at 7 in the morning, inspecting the internal coating in a chimney in Ghent, or even watching in awe as pigeons come dangerously close to the drone that was intruding ‘their’ area. Good times! (laughs)”

Hugo De Blauwe and Pierre Maere, two passionate drone lovers, founded inFlights in 2016. Hugo, a private pilot, worked more than 7 years at McKinsey with a focus on aerospace industry. 10 years ago he designed control systems for drones at Georgia Institute of Technology. He also has a engineering degree from KULeuven. Pierre worked at AB InBev for 4 years and has a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from TUDelft. He performed research with the first iPhone operated drone and wrote a journal article on planning strategies for drones, both at MIT in Massachusetts, USA. He has been flying gliders from the age of 16, before he could drive.

More info on www.inflights.eu

Lifting infrastructure inspections to new levels with drones

Understanding the state of your assets is crucial for industrial players to deliver their products in a safe and productive manner. Oil platform operators obsess on the status of their equipment and airline companies monitor micro cracks in the structure of their airplanes up to the millimeter. Maintenance managers in these industries live with their equipment; they inspect and work on it during the day, they try not to think about them at night and they wake up thinking about their assets.

It should be no difference for large infrastructure such as engineering structures or buildings. The rationale is similar as in other industries; the cost of urgent repairs represents a significant downtime and failure can even cost people’s lives. However, the inspection sophistication of large infrastructure is still behind other industries such as aviation and oil & gas.

Why are there less inspection?

A first reason is that inspecting large infrastructure assets is more cumbersome. Hanging under a bridge or climbing on high roofs is a complex and dangerous task. A jet engine mechanic receives a vast amount of data measured during flight and during the maintenance he can easily access the engines of an airplane. The vast number of sensors in a chemical plant drastically reduce the inspection effort. Bart Bols, who designs bridges as a project engineer at Ney & Partner confirms this:

"Inspection and maintenance on bridges can be very complex, although we always have to design structure so that it would be easy to inspect and maintain them during their life cycle. Nevertheless for some of the inspections and maintenance a dangling inspector/workman or disturbed traffic can not be avoided."

Second, because there is less data available, the sophistication of predictive analytics is also behind other industries. After decades of accumulating flight hours on its engines, GE Aviation is able to better predict outages and steers its customers' maintenance policies to increase uptime. Furthermore, large infrastructure assets very often are unique given that they need to address a unique problem; every bridge has its specifics, every building is a bit different. Both lack of data and hetegerenosity lead to much more difficult analytics. Bart Bols illustrates the current state of how inspections on bridges are done:

“Currently most inspectors do mainly visual inspections. They rely on their expertise to determine if there is an issue and what needs to happen.”

Third, a higher number of stakeholders makes the cost-benefit assessment of large infrastructure projects more complex. Every euro spent on inspecting corrosion on pipes has a straightforward impact on the bottom line of the chemical plant. When performing thermal infrared scans to detect insulation errors on roofs, the benefits are not always for the one who owns the building or the one who constructed the building.

 

Drone-as-a-Service provides substantial benefits

Services based on drone data provide major benefits for infrastructure owners. The wide availability of drone equipment and drone pilots enables inspections from angles that used to be unthinkable or very expensive. Inspecting the outside of a chimney is reduced to a 1-hr drone flight compared to hiring height workers for a couple of days. The same applies for inspecting the bottom of a bridge, the facade of a building and the roof of a skyscraper. Bart Bols adds to this:

“When we design bridges, we need to take into account the maintenance cost of the bridge. We know parties that offer drone technology as an argument to convince clients in a Design, Build, Finance and Maintenance (DBFM) contracts.”

Furthermore, when considering that a drone can be mounted with different type of sensors (e.g. thermal infrared camera, multispectral) it is clear that they provide better data from a better perspective.

Drone data also allows you to build up a structured smart database of your infrastructure. Using the localization tag of the GPS, software is able to relate the vast amount of pictures taken to the right location on the inspected equipment. This allows users to combine this data with existing drawings, and to analyse the evolution of issues over time. But that's just the start, having this database allows you to apply AI algorithms to detect issues more quickly and more accurately than with traditional methods.

The numbers are not small. For instance, the Netherlands has 22 000 bridges, France 12 000 and Germany 40 000. Most bridges need a yearly inspection, however this can change depending on the state of the bridge.

What needs to happen?

Implementing drones in the inspection value chain has clear benefits, however the adoption takes time. What needs to happen to accelerate the adoption? We give our view on the key actions that the stakeholders should take.

Drone service companies need to understand that drones are not the only source of data that the end customer is using to better monitor their infrastructure and existing software to track issues exists. The winning solution based on drones will be one that integrates seemingless into existing workflows and systems, apply the right AI algorithms when there is a economic rationale and run effective drone operations.

Regulators have implemented a regulatory framework making commercial drone operations possible. The next step for regulators is to implement the procedures and systems to reduce the lead times of the administration required to operate in more complex conditions. If a pilot of a manned plane wants to fly through controlled airspace he needs to file a flight plant 30 mins before take-off. If a drone pilot wants to operate in a controlled airspace he might need to file paperwork weeks or even months in advance.

End users of drone data should embrace the upcoming technology, and should invest time of their inspection teams to assess how drone data and insights can improve their productivity. Furthermore, end users should also understand a new set of boundary conditions that comes with drone operations such as impact of controlled airspace, meteo and privacy concerns.

 

inFlights is a drone-as-a-service company, supporting industrial companies to improve their performance with valuable insights. inFlights unique operating model allows clients to deploy drones anytime and anywhere, to structure the data in accordance to existing equipment or infrastructure classification and to generate insights with AI algorithms.

How to swallow GDPR regulations as a drone business

Unless you've been able to stay away from the media , you have probably heard of GDPR, the new European regulation on the protection of personal data. An ambitious vision that aims to protect consumers, but that is turning into a real headache for businesses. And if almost all sectors are impacted, some will be more than others. It is also the case of the drone business.

You have probably noticed it just by opening your mailbox, GDPR came into effect on May 25th. Now that the dust on GDPR has settled a bit, it is time to have a look at some of the implications for the drone industry. The drone business, which is mainly based on data collection, whether personal or not, will be one of the most affected sectors by this new set of rules. All actors will therefore have to adapt. Here's how GDPR will become a daily concern for them and some of the steps they will eventually need to put into practice.

Manufacturers

GDPR introduces a new concept: "privacy-by-design". This means that all objects, like drones, should, from conception, take privacy protection into account. The manufacturers are therefore at the forefront in this area. In the near future, they will have to develop new features for their drones. Among those already mentioned are the securing of transmissions between the drone and its pilot, the automated face blurring of people shot by camera or the installation of a light on the drone that will light up as soon as the camera starts filming or taking pictures.

The pilots

The drone pilots are undoubtedly the most affected by the new regulation as they execute the data capturing. For those whose photos are likely to contain recognizable people (such as those who work for weddings or make promotional videos), it is already necessary to ask permission beforehand to people that might appear on the images.

Meanwhile, no-fly zones are likely to be created within the European Union. Among them may be areas specifically selected because of privacy sensitivities, such as crowded beaches.

And like all image holders, pilots will also need to make sure that all the data they possess is protected and secured so that no one with malicious intent can access them. In times where all your data gets synced to multiple devices and cloud platforms, drone pilots need to carefully manage all their cloud sync settings. At inFlights we require that our pilots erase all the confidential client data 3 months after the flight. That way the risk of data leakages are kept to a minimum.

Data processing companies

Companies that perform data processing will be in the same regime as all those who handle personal data. As such, they will be responsible for, among other things, being able to secure as much as possible sensitive data and to warn their customers in case of hacking. They will also need to ensure that all file transfers (between them and the pilots or their clients) are as safe as possible.

As a data processing company, inFlights, is directly concerned by GDPR. Even before the new legislation came into effect, inFlights had already put in place a series of measures to secure its customers’ data. Among them: securing the platform (which was tested by belgian defense cyber security specialists) or the use of Amazon AWS: secure, safe and trusted by industry leaders (making sure the data is only accessible through the platform and not via 'open link' sharing).

inFlights also encourages their pilots to make contact with people that might live in the areas they will fly over. By proactively communicating with neighbours of flight locations we address privacy concerns upfront. Lastly, inFlights makes it easy for customers to unsubscribe from the platform, and erases private user data on request.

Be proactive

Yes, we know, all these new rules might sound scary and hard to implement. Changes will indeed have to be made, but if, as inFlights did and will keep on doing, you put privacy at the core of your operations, the new GDPR policy will not have that much impact on your business. So if you are a stakeholder in the drone industry: make sure you adjust your processes to comply.

How a Drones-as-a-Service network simplifies your drone operations

From the choice of the right operator and the right equipment, all through the official requests for authorizations, planning a professional flight with a drone for your company can be a real obstacle course. But solutions exist today. Among them: working with a party that manages a network of operators, the end-to-end process and the processing.

Large companies in industrial sectors, such as construction and chemicals have not been mistaken: more and more are starting to use professional drone services. Their goal is simple : to obtain valuable images and precious insights to manage their inventories, reach and inspect inaccessible places or even detect heat leaks in their facilities. But even though the results can indeed be game-changing, planning and executing a flight with an independent operator might sometimes be difficult.

As most often they are aeronautics enthusiasts who have managed to purchase their own equipment, many perform this activity as a professional hobby. So despite their seriousness and professionalism, they are not always well referenced and usually do not have the technical skills to process the images they have collected. On top of that, as novices in the sector, they can be overwhelmed with the paperwork and regulatory work that is necessary to perform the flight.

A whole series of hassles that could easily be avoided if companies went through specialized centralization platforms (like inFlights). Their great asset is simple, they work with a large network of pilots present throughout the territory. A real advantage for companies that would, for instance, need to perform multiple simultaneous flights in different geographical locations.

And as everything is centralized, the long procedures with the administration services to obtain the necessary documents for the flight are over. The platform’s expertise makes it possible to quickly prepare complete files so that the operator can carry out his work on time. A know-how also very useful when it comes to preparing flights in different countries with their own legislation. To give an example: inFlights made it possible last month to perform three flights in three different European countries on behalf of a multinational. From demand to having the insights in the client's inbox took no more than a week.

By letting platforms that work with a network of pilots organize their flights from start to finish, companies have the opportunity to gain huge amounts of time. All while obtaining high quality results and valuable insights.

Click here for more information about inFlights.