– and provide a safer and more environmentally-friendly future

This article originally appeared in Norwegian as part of the "Lederblikk" series by Oslo Business Forum. Read the Norwegian version here. 

Drones are playing an increasingly important role in the transformation of industry – and for good reason. They can provide big cost savings, improve safety significantly, and reduce the impact on the environment.

Companies in the oil and gas industry do a lot of deep-sea work. This is expensive work that frequently entails security risks and impacts the environment. In the power industry, monitoring the power grid and analyzing images to detect errors is a major cost. And in the maritime sector, the inspection of big tanks and vessels constitutes a risk factor

Faster, less expensive, and safer with drones

Automation, drones, and artificial intelligence will bring big gains in these and many other areas. Simply put, we can use drones to make inspections more frequent, faster, and less expensive with no risk of exposing people to danger – even in inaccessible, dangerous, or harmful environments.

Most drones will be used for surveillance using built-in cameras, infrared sensors, radar, or sonar. With the help of machine learning, these drones will, for example, be able to navigate and create maps in unknown terrain, navigate indoors, and interpret data from sensors on installations. They will even be able to identify data patterns and assess whether they include irregularities indicating errors.

Cost-efficient development and inspection at deep sea levels

Companies in the oil and gas industry have to lay pipelines and install wells at deep sea levels. With subsea drones – or AUVs (autonomous underwater vehicles) – they can produce detailed maps of the seabed before commencing this work. The result will be cost-efficient development that minimizes the impact on the marine environment. 

Subsea drones can also be used for inspecting pipelines and other subsea installations. But the technology is developing rapidly, and in the future, snake robots will be able to handle much of this work.

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Snake robots are called seabed janitors: They live on the seabed near installations they are monitoring. They can even perform easier maintenance on the installations. This will lead to reduced use of the larger subsea vessels that are more expensive in use. At the same time, it will improve the safety. And inspections of plants with suspected gas leakages can be carried out more quickly. Today, such suspicions can cause a plant to be closed for a week or more before a crew can be sent to inspect and reopen it.

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Drones may revolutionize the power industry

Autonomous, flying drones may revolutionize the power industry. The drones inspect the power grid and take pictures from the air. The images are then uploaded to the cloud and analyzed. This is a job drones and advanced analysis can do faster, safer, and more accurately than people. 

In the wake of Hurricane Irma earlier this year, Norwegian-based eSmart Systems used this technology to help power companies in the US. Drones and artificial intelligence helped thousands of Americans get their power back faster. They also made the cleanup work safer for those working on getting the infrastructure back up.

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Flying drones can perform several other tasks: For instance, they can deliver smaller packages to ships. They can carry out surveys, quality control, and inspection of wind turbine wings and solar systems. And they can inspect narrow pipes and big tanks on ships and offshore installations. Today, people are performing these tasks manually.

The sky is not the limit

I think the easiest way to understand the opportunities drones provide is to think of them as remote sensors: They can move over long distances and gather data that we can use later.

There are still certain challenges associated with using autonomous drones, but development is moving fast. Although autonomous drones won't become a common sight within the next couple of years, with time, they will undoubtedly generate huge amounts of data. Advanced analysis of these data will provide increased security, help protect the environment, improve maintenance, and provide significant cost savings.

In the future, autonomous drones will provide an abundance of opportunities.

The sky is not the limit

About the author
Hege Skryseth

Hege Skryseth has worked for KONGSBERG since August 2013 holding various management positions within the Group’s corporate team. She has been the President of Kongsberg Digital, and Chief Digital Officer of KONGSBERG since March 2016. Skryseth also holds broad experience from several leading international technology companies and has been a board member for various organizations including her most current participation with eSmart Systems.