7 Key Benefits of Indoor Drones Equipped with LiDAR

LiDAR data collected by drone in confined spaces is helping inspectors revolutionize the way they work—here are seven key benefits they're realizing.

LiDAR seems to be everywhere lately.

We hear about it being used in self-driving cars to help them visualize their surroundings in real time, by archaeologists to discover new ruins under dense forest canopy, and even by smart phones to help people create basic 3D models of their homes.

The primary value of LiDAR data is for creating detailed, precise 3D models.

[Related read: What Is LiDAR?]

In the world of inspections, inspectors are starting to use LiDAR data to create a variety of 3D models of the assets they inspect. And these models are profoundly improving how they do their work.

LiDAR data generally creates more detailed, more accurate, and more precise 3D models than photogrammetry, and these positive attributes make the 3D models created from LiDAR more useful for the work inspectors do.

And for confined space inspections specifically, there are a number of benefits inspectors are realizing from LiDAR.

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The Elios 3's LiDAR sensor glows green in this photo taken during a sewer inspection

While LiDAR data in general is helping inspectors improve their work, LiDAR drones—that is, drones that carry a LiDAR sensor—are quickly becoming one of the most powerful tools for the collection of LiDAR data because they have greater maneuverability than other options, such as handheld LiDAR scanners, which require a person to walk through an area holding the scanner.

lidar-benefits-slam-3d-map

The 3D models made with LiDAR data can be created in real time, as the drone flies, providing greater situational awareness for the pilot (as shown above). They can also be created after a flight in post-processing, using software like GeoSLAM Connect.

But how do inspectors use these 3D models? And what benefits are they providing for the inspection process?

Here are seven key benefits that inspectors are realizing from using indoor drones equipped with a LiDAR sensor in their work.

1. Enhanced Safety

By now, it's fairly common knowledge that using a drone for indoor inspections can improve safety.

By collecting visual data remotely with a drone, inspectors can avoid confined space entry, work at height on scaffolding, and rope access, eliminating or significantly reducing these hazards in their work.

But a lingering safety issue inspectors face is that, at times, they must still enter a confined space to watch the indoor drone collect data in order to make sure they're getting full coverage of the asset.

For instance, we recently heard about an inspector doing an inspection of an FPSO cargo tank with the Elios 2. Although the drone was able to collect all the visual data needed for the inspection remotely, the inspector still had to briefly enter the tank to watch the drone and make sure it got full coverage of the asset.

But an indoor drone equipped with a LiDAR sensor, like the Elios 3, can eliminate this need—and thus removes a significant hazard for the inspector.

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A 3D Live Map made with the Elios 3's LiDAR data

The way the Elios 3 eliminates this need is by creating a 3D Live Map as it flies within an asset, providing a record of everywhere the drone has been inside it that lets the inspector know with certainty whether they have gotten full coverage or not.


2. Ensuring Full Coverage

Although ensuring full coverage provides the safety benefit listed above, it's also a key benefit itself for inspectors.

Using the Elios 3's 3D Live Map, inspectors can make sure they're getting full coverage inside an asset for every single inspection—even those conducted in homogenous environments, where visual data alone may not be enough to make sure the entire asset has been inspected.


3. Stockpile Measurements

 Using LiDAR data collected by drone, inspectors and other personnel can create stockpile measurements, replacing more manual methods that are potentially dangerous and less exact.

Here are some examples of real use cases from the field:

Salt Mining

A salt mine in Germany used the Elios 3's LiDAR data to create stockpile measurements of huge cones of salt, replacing the need for inspectors to climb them to take manual measurements, and getting more accurate data in return. Read the case study to learn more.

Here's a video of a 3D model made with LiDAR data during this mission:

Cement Production

A cement plant in France used the Elios 3's LiDAR data to create stockpile measurements of the amount of clinker stored in one of its silos (clinker is a material used in cement production). The drone was able to make the measurement in just 30 minutes—10 for LiDAR data collection and 20 for post-processing with GeoSLAM Connect. This approach replaced the need for someone to stand on a platform 25 meters (82 feet) in the air and poke a long pole into the clinker. Read the case study to learn more.

Here's a video of a 3D model made with LiDAR data during this mission:


4. Flying in Dusty Environments

LiDAR data doesn't just help inspectors collect better data—it can also help them to fly.

In very dusty environments, such as inside a cement silo or within an underground area at a mine, an indoor drone that relies on its live visual feed for flying can become blind, and unable to operate.

This scenario can be frustrating, since these dusty places are often exactly where inspectors need to fly for their work in certain industries.

But LiDAR sensing is generally not impacted by the presence of dust. This means that the pilot can use the drone's 3D Live Map to fly—even when the drone's live visual feed is blind.

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The Elios 3's tablet shows a 3D Live Map alongside the live visual feed in a dusty environment

For example, in the cement plant mentioned above where the Elios 3 was used for a stockpile measurement, the dust was so bad that the drone's visual feed was often blind. But using the 3D Live Map, the pilot was able to complete the mission and collect all the LiDAR data needed for the stockpile measurement.


5. Geolocating Defects in Three Dimensional Space

As inspectors adopt drones for their work, a common issue has arisen: it can be hard to know exactly where a defect seen in visual data is located within the asset.

And knowing the location of a defect is crucial information for inspectors and for maintenance personnel so they can return to the exact location to do repairs, or to continue monitoring the defect over time.

Flyability first addressed this issue of data localization by providing a sparse 3D point cloud with geolocated Points of Interest (POIs) in its Inspector 3.0 software. These POIs showed you exactly where a defect was located within an asset, and could be shared with other stakeholders in the maintenance process.

Now, with LiDAR data collected by the Elios 3, these point clouds have become robust 3D models that can be viewed in real time on the drone's tablet, and included in 3D reporting after a mission in Inspector 4.0.

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A still of a 3D model with POIs from Inspector 4.0

These 3D reports allow you to click into the specific POI to view an image of it, providing important visual data about its condition. They can be shared with team members, and saved to provide a historic record of where a certain defect is located within an asset, and how it has changed over time.


6. Improving Knowledge of Unknown Places

In mining operations, there are sometimes areas in an a mine that are completely unknown.

This may happen because these areas were made a long time ago, and plans or maps of them have either been lost or are no longer trusted.

Due to safety reasons, mining personnel generally can't enter areas like this, since their stability and general condition are unknown and therefore deemed too dangerous for human entry.

But an indoor drone equipped with a LiDAR sensor can fly into these unknown places and collect LiDAR data, allowing inspectors to create 3D models of them and thereby greatly improving their knowledge of these areas.

Here are some examples of real use cases from the field:

Luxembourg Maps Old Slate Mines

Luxembourg's division of Mines, Mining, and Quarries was planning to turn an old slate quarry into a museum. To do this, they needed to map the mine to understand its layout and make important safety determinations about where people could go, since no maps existed when the project began.

Using the Elios 3, the division was able to create 3D models of several unknown and previously unmapped areas within the quarry to help them with their planning. Read the case study to learn more.

Here's a video of a 3D model made with LiDAR data during this mission:

Vattenfall Maps "No Go" Zone in Decommissioned Power Plant

The need to 3D map old, unknown areas isn't limited to mines. A decommissioned power plant owned by Vattenfall, one of Europe’s largest producers of electricity and heat, hadn't been used in decades, and parts of it had been deemed too dangerous for people to enter.

Using the Elios 3, Vattenfall was able to collect LiDAR data for the creation of a 3D map of one of these "no go" zones in just 30 minutes of flight time. Without the Elios 3, Vattenfall personnel would have had to use rope access and possibly erect scaffolding to enter the area and collect data about its condition. Read the case study to learn more.

Here's a video of a 3D model made with LiDAR data during this mission:


7. Using Digital Twins to Track Changes Over Time

LiDAR data collected by indoor drone is helping inspectors create digital twins of the interior of their assets, allowing them to 3D map the inside of boilers, tanks, and other industrial assets so they can have a record of their condition at a certain point in time.

The phrase digital twin is used in many ways these days, but the basic idea is to create a full snapshot—but in three dimensional space, of course—of the condition of an asset at a specific moment in time.

Later, you can take another snapshot and compare the two to see what has changed, and thereby surface potential defects or maintenance issues in the assets at your plant.

In some instances, companies with brand new plants are creating digital twins of the entire plant so that they can track changes to it over time. 

In addition to helping inspectors find defects, digital twins can also be used for planning. For instance, if a mining operation is commissioning the creation of a large machine for an underground area in a mine, they can lay a 3D model of the machine's plans over a 3D model of the space and see if it will actually fit.

Want to learn more about the Elios 3? Watch a demo now.

 

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