DJI M300 RTK with LiDAR produces impressive inspection results

DJI M300 RTK LiDAR

Inspection of critical assets is one of the areas where Enterprise drones truly excel. Drones like DJI’s M300 RTK can get to places, quickly, that would take a person a long time to reach – and might also endanger that person’s safety. But a drone is only as good as the data it acquires. In this example, that data is excellent.

We received an email from heliguy, an Enterprise-level drone dealer and training facility based in Northumberland, UK. The company has been around since the early days, and has built a reputation as not only a dealer, but also as GIS specialists, consultants, and advisors. Might we be interested in looking at a case study, the email asked, focusing on an inspection company using the DJI M300 RTK and multiple sensors?

Why yes, we thought. We’d be very interested.

Details count

When you’re inspecting an asset like power lines, it’s critical that you get the images you need. Missing a frayed wire, or failing to detect a thermal anomaly, can lead to the very problems an inspection is intended to avoid.

In the case we’re about to delve into, the DJI M300 RTK was being put to use by Keltbray, an engineering solutions company with a division that specializes in overhead line and substation services. Keltbray bought the drone, and sensor accessories, from heliguy.

Immediate benefits

In a post on its website, Keltbray says the DJI M300 RTK and assorted imaging accessories have had a tremendously positive impact – doubling inspection efficiency and reducing carbon emissions by 45%.

But the biggest advantage seems to the quality of the data Keltbray is obtaining with this system. The company is using DJI’s Zenmuse H20T – where the “H” stands for Hybrid. That means it contains multiple sensors in a single payload. Here’s what that single module provides:

  • 12 MP wide angle camera, with 82.9° field-of-view
  • 20 MP zoom camera, with a 23x hybrid optical zoom
  • 640 x 512 px radiometric thermal camera
  • 1,200-meter laser rangefinder

It’s not an inexpensive payload; the DJI website shows it priced at $12,000 US – and you still have to buy the drone. But it gets the job done.

The proof

It’s one thing to say a sensor performs well; something else to see the output. Check out this video, for starters, showing the optical capabilities of that 23x zoom. This glass is sharp:

Zoom, zoom, zoom…

To put the Zoom lens on that H20T into perspective, it’s worth looking at the next two images. Here’s the setup, as quoted from the case study:

Drones have revolutionised the way that Keltbray conducts condition-based assessments, replacing a once time-consuming, labour-intensive and high-risk process with a highly efficient, safe, and data-rich alternative. These two images demonstrate how the powerful zoom on the H20T camera helps Keltbray capture detailed imagery of critical infrastructure from afar.

“The first picture shows an up-close view of a detuning spacer…”

Image via Keltbray

And the next image? It reveals the drone was 260 meters away when it captured that image! You can see the spacer highlighted with a small red circle:

That’s pretty incredible… Image via Keltbray

And the benefit?

“This removes the need to deploy costly all-terrain vehicles, stops staff having to work at height or clamber over difficult terrain, helps to identify rust or defects in great detail, eliminates asset downtime, and cuts inspection costs,” says the case study.

Thermal

Of course, thermal imaging is also useful in this kind of inspection work. The human eye can’t detect whether something is hot or not (unless, arguably, it’s boiling, smoking, or on fire). But the thermal portion of the payload was able to pick up on an overheating cable joint. This is precisely the kind of inspection work that can prevent fires, liability, and costly repairs:

That’s one hot spot on the left… Images via Keltbray

Advanced mission planning

The case study also says that Keltbray has been using other sensors, including LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging):

Keltbray is using drone surveying techniques for advanced mission planning: Deploying the 45MP P1 photogrammetry camera and L1 LiDAR sensor, in conjunction with the DJI Terra drone mapping software package, to create highly-detailed, centimetre-accurate 3D models and point clouds. This enables the team to extract crucial site information – such as details about terrain, slopes, gradients, routing issues and safety distances between powerlines and buildings – for vital pre-job insights, while the visual 3D site models streamline communication with clients and stakeholders.

Here are the results:

Keltbray images

A big win for Keltbray

The project construction manager at Keltbray Energy, Gordon Cranston, is clearly pleased with what tools like DJI’s M300 RTK and associated sensors are able to accomplish:

Innovation is at the forefront of our business and drones are the future, bringing so many benefits to our operations. Through a relatively small investment, drones reduce business risks and costs, enable us to access and develop new market places, and increase overall safety within high-risk environments which naturally drives efficiency during projects.

Wait, there’s more!

Actually, there is. We couldn’t squeeze in everything from the case study, and there are a few more interesting images and quotes worth checking out. If you want to really geek out – and presumably be impressed – you can refer to this post for the bits we didn’t quite get to.

Nicely done, Keltbray!

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