ROAV inspections spark a revolution in the utilities sector

05 Feb 2015

Our utilities inspection manager Rodrigo Duarte discusses the use of ROAV technology and how it is changing the way utilities inspections are being carried out.

Cloud-based analytics and reporting breakthroughs could spark a revolution in the usefulness of inspection drones says Rodrigo Duarte.

The use of Remotely Operated Aerial Vehicles (ROAV) for aerial inspections is becoming increasingly widespread in the electric utilities sector.

Also known as drones, UAV, UAS and RPAS, the advantages of this remote inspection technique for improved safety, accuracy and cost, are being quickly recognised by the industry. The superior inspection method does have its drawbacks however: ROAV technology produces significant volumes of high resolution image data, volumes that are simply too large for the ITcapacities of most electric utilities companies.

In response to these challenges, Scotland headquartered remote aerial inspection company, Cyberhawk Innovations, has introduced a new way of delivering results to customers. The company, which was responsible for the first ever ROAV industrial inspection, has developed an end-to-end tower inspection solution coupled with cloud-based asset management software, to deliver meaningful, decision-friendly information as opposed to bulk raw data.

By combining ROAVs, highly skilled pilots and engineering experts, utilities can benefit from close up inspections of hard to reach, live assets, in a manner that is quicker, safer and more cost effective than ever before – a fact which the big six energy companies in the UK have all already experienced.

But despite the undeniable benefits of ROAV inspection, the huge volumes of high resolution image data captured have proved problematic in terms of delivering results to utilities – most of which have insufficient IT capacity to manage such volumes.

Another concern has been the ability to analyse the collected data in an intelligent and user friendly manner, so that usable information is produced for decision making purposes, rather than an overwhelming amount of ‘dumb’ raw data.

With new innovations in cloud-based technology however, it is now possible for utilities to view overhead power line inspection results and land survey projects without having to make heavy investment in IT capability in-house. It also increases accessibility since users can view results on mobile devices.

Walking through the process

A best-practice, end to end inspection regime using ROAVs starts with the creation of a standard manual which is used to set out a detailed ground and air data collection plan. The data is then collected on-site by inspection engineers and pilots.

Back in the office, this data is categorised and summarised into a reporting matrix showing the results for different assets. The final stage of the process involves publishing the results. Cyberhawk offers a map-based interface as an intuitive way to access the information as well as a number of other viewing features including 360 degree spherical images and digital elevation models. Since different utilities will have different assets and environments to work with, as well as different expectations of the data collected during ROAV inspection, it’s important that an inspection reporting tool is versatile and includes options for customisation.

Remote aerial surveys have come a long way since 2008, when Cyberhawk came into being. Some utilities companies now consider ROAV technologies as best practice, incorporating the methodology into their routine inspection policies and major project schedules.

With the ability to achieve more meaningful reports on inspection data and to manage volumes via the cloud, utilities can enjoy new breakthroughs in the usefulness of ROAV technology.


The sky is (almost) the limit:

There are few limitations to the ROAV ‘revolution’ from a purely practical standpoint.

As with many such emerging technologies, rules and regulations around the use of

ROAVs are evolving around the world. In the UK, aviation guidance is provided by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

An ROAV may not be flown within 150 metres of a congested area, nor may it breach a 50 metre perimeter around a person or group of people, except during take-off and landing. It must remain in sight of the operator, and additional permission is required for flights higher than 400ft, or further than 500m.

There is also, rightly, a rigorous training and qualification regime in the UK for industrial ROAV pilots. 

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