SkyX is using a proprietary VTOL UAV to inspect pipelines
July 26, 2017
It is not a quadcopter, and it’s not quite a fixed-wing UAV – so what is it?
Drone inspections tend to fall into two camps: shorter dedicated inspection missions are flown using small quadcopters, or longer-range monitoring and mapping missions performed by larger, fixed-wing UAVs. For major long-term projects, the latter is of course the preferable choice, but such UAVs require a suitable runway or launching infrastructure, transport and a fair amount of human oversight.
Ontario-based SkyX has a different solution, instead using a pioneering design that combines the vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capabilities of a quadcopter with the endurance of a fixed-wing UAV. In combination with an innovative charging station and monitoring software, the company claims that its suite of systems, dubbed the SkyX Solution, offers the energy industry “the most sophisticated and integrated long-range infrastructure monitoring platform available.”
Central to the platform is the SkyOne drone itself. The battery-powered aircraft is capable of travelling around 65 miles (105 km) on a single charge, and thanks to its four-propeller VTOL system can take off from just about anywhere. It can be equipped with a range of imaging technologies, from basic visual image capture to thermal, infrared, LIDAR and other multispectral data, providing an in-depth data feed from an energy asset. Moreover, it does so autonomously, meaning no human input is required.
The electronic components are weather-sealed, allowing the drone to fly in conditions that may otherwise prohibit conventional UAVs.
At present, SkyOne transmits all captured image data once it had landed, although future modifications may see this change. The company confirmed to InnovOil via email that: “We are actively pursuing real-time image transmission in areas where there are existing cellular networks. However, many of the locations where the SkyX System will be deployed are rural, and with limited connectivity.”
Most recently, SkyX has added an additional piece of infrastructure to its offering. Ground-based recharging and launching hubs, dubbed xStations, provide the SkyOne with a dedicated point to land, cache data and check its system functions – as well as extending potential mission range indefinitely. When not in use, these hubs are also enclosed, protecting the system from the elements. They can also provide waypoint for landing and data storage along longer routes. They are powered by a conventional electric outlet, but can also be plugged directly into generators, or on-site power infrastructure.
In the pipeline Pipeline monitoring operations in particular are where the start-up sees the greatest benefit for the system. Operators using the SkyX Solution would establish a network of xStations and drone flightpaths along set points in their infrastructure, enabling constant surveillance of the pipeline. This is then monitored by an autonomous fleet management programme, allowing the system to detect and report leaks – even at night – or to capture and report vegetation growth. Asset owners can also amend flight plans manually, or programme in additional inspections or tasks.
Should any leak or integrity issues be detected whilst a unit is surveying, a message is sent to the operator. In the event of an emergency, SkyOne drones can also be immediately dispatched to survey specific points of interest, enabling a rapid response.
While oil and gas assets are seen as the company’s first targets, it also sees potential in other infrastructure monitoring operations such as railway lines, coastlines and electrical grids. SkyX intends to market the system on a monthly subscription basis, which should help to reduce capex costs compared with other potential monitoring options.
The SkyX system is not currently available worldwide, although the company has seen interest from several countries. “From a technology perspective, it can work worldwide,” SkyX head of media and communications Scott Simmie explained. “It's really more a question of regulatory frameworks in specific countries.”
For now though, Simmie says the company is in discussion with “several large companies on an international scale” and hopes to be able to reveal more within the next few months.