Earlier this week, we spoke with Eitan Rotberg, Senior Vice President of Product Management at Airobotics, about the role drones are playing in natural disasters and what more they can do. Airobotics currently has its autonomous drone system deployed in Deer Park, Houston, Texas.
Is there is a real-world example of Airobotics products being used during a disaster?
Hurricanes and storms, which affect Texas every year, are unpredictable in their path and the kind of devastation they cause. As part of an ongoing pilot, aerial footage collected by Airobotics’ automated system at a leading industrial facility in Deer Park, Houston, Texas enabled and assisted site personnel to adequately prepare for the upcoming storm, as well as execute on disaster response following the storm.
Once the storm has passed, the drone is sent up to capture video and stream it back to site personnel, who then look over it to see if there are any issues with assets or maintenance that might be required. The drone also means the personnel doesn’t need to inspect assets at the site themselves as they could pose a safety risk.
Leaks and spills are a major concern for any facility owner since they can pose a significant risk to the team working on-site as well as contaminate the environment. Live aerial video was streamed to identify and locate potential leaks and spills, assess road quality, inspect dock areas & transport barges, oversee the integrity of loading tank trucks, and identify earth shifts. Additionally, aerial data was collected to perform volumetric measurements of bund walls across all facility assets to ensure that spill volumes would not result in an overflow in the event of a flood.
How have drones changed the way we respond to disasters?
Drones show immense promise in disaster management and are playing an increasing role in natural disaster recovery and preparedness efforts. Drones allow for real-time aerial video and photos to be delivered directly to personnel on the ground, enabling more informed decision making in times of emergencies.
Hurricane Harvey was the event that helped drones get into the public eye when it comes to disaster recovery. Six days after Harvey, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) handed out over 40 authorizations for emergency drones.
This was an example of and testament to why drone technology has and is to continue moving forward at a much faster speed. Drones, particularly multi-rotor drones, provide important and diverse contributions for first responders by enhancing their response capabilities and the speed in which first responders execute on their missions. Additionally, drones provide professionals is in enabling professionals to remotely access land that have been impacted by disasters, and which may not be accessible by foot. This move is definitely welcomed by the industry which holds safety in the highest regard.
Why is an autonomous solution better than a manned solution?
A conversation starter that has come up a lot recently in the drone world is autonomous versus manned drones. Both have their benefits but let’s hear from Rotberg why autonomy is the way to go when it comes to natural disasters.
Typically, first responders managing piloted drone operations are tasked with hiring and training drone operators which oftentimes proves to be costly and lacks the precision of robotics.
Our automated system is comprised of three components – we have the airbase, a durable, industrial-grade docking station that shelters the drone. Inside the docking station is a robotic arm that replaces payloads and batteries automatically. We have the drone itself that can carry different sensors and cameras. We have the data platform that operates the entire system and also analyzes the data captured. We have completely removed the human element. The drone operates completely automatically. Fly, land, repeat.
Automated drones have revolutionized fields, such as oil & gas and seaports, and they’ve greatly improved productivity, efficiency, and safety. No other technology can provide all of the benefits of fully-automated drone solutions nor can they collect the amount of high-quality aerial data drones can secure.
How does Airobotics’ solution make disaster response and management more efficient?
Pre-programmed flights throughout sites provide dynamic sensing, previously unavailable with static sensor systems. With Airobotics’ ability to deliver regular aerial visuals and data, physical risks to employees can be minimized without the need for them to climb up the tanks. Activities do not have to be halted as personnel is not physically required to inspect and take measurements of critical assets. The frequency of measurements and inspections can be significantly increased whilst human risks are minimized to the absolute lowest possible rate.
Our drone system has the unique capability of swapping its own batteries and payloads. It’s also rugged and can fit adverse weather conditions and finally, it’s able to self-launch as well as land automatically every time – which is the hardest hurdle to overcome from a technological perspective. Airobotics’ solution allows larger teams and several stakeholders to control the drone flight path and sensors to engage with aerial data, and reach decisions in real-time through Airobotics’ automated system.
What is different about Airobotics’ products from competitors?
Airobotics provides an end-to-end, fully automatic solution for collecting aerial data and gaining invaluable insights. Airobotics is the most advanced and commercially available UAV solution. Airobotics is the only solution that automates the entire operation. Airobotics’ automation extends from pre-flight checks all the way area to an automatic download and transmission of the data that’s being gathered. More than that, it extends across the entire operation, from when the drone is on the ground to when it’s in the air and back on the ground.
Airobotics is also the most advanced from a safety perspective – it is approved for operations remotely in BVLOS, in populated areas such as cities. Also, the Airobotics’ Platform has an integrated parachute. This serves as a failsafe response to unexpected events and situations.
Although the market is trending towards increased levels of automation, Airobotics has not yet identified a true competitor, which provides the same caliber of regulatory achievements, operational methods, and automation offered by Airobotics.
A little off-topic: Do you fly drones, if so which ones?
A question that we always ask during an interview is of course, do you fly drones?
Although Airobotics is a pilotless drone solution, we do enjoy flying toy drones from time to time.