Fri, 09 April, 2021
The DamGPR Drones Project was created to develop a ground penetrating radar (GPR) capable drone for the inspection of dam structures. Designed to maintain a constant distance from the structure while mapping the internal structure of the dam for fault detection and analysis, this project has potential applications elsewhere too – particularly in potentially hazardous sectors like oil and gas and construction.
Not only could these applications see safety improvements through the use of drones, but could also lead to cost-savings when compared to other techniques. Here we examine six distinct markets that could benefit from the deployment of the technologies developed as part of the DamGPR Drones Project:
- Utilities and Infrastructure
GPR-equipped drone technology has applications for the inspection of utilities and infrastructure. A pilot research project in Indonesia, called Terra Drone was conducted in March 2020 at the Bandung Institute of Technology, where GPR drones were used to detect underground utilities and infrastructure.
Market research has shown that there is a growing demand for such technologies in the underground utility market, with pre-COVID-19 forecasts showed expected growth of 11% up until 2024 (from $842 million in 2019 to $1.4 billion by 2024). In addition, the technological solutions segment that is expected to grow at the highest CAGR during the forecast period is GPR, as it is able to locate both metallic and non-metallic buried utilities.
- Geological and Seismic
Geological applications for the technology have also been demonstrated through the June 2020 EDIS (Electric aircraft and Drones In the Service of the community) project. This project is investigating the use of airborne ground radar technology, deployed on drones, to collect geo-physical data for emergency or critical situations. Test flights are expected to take place this year at the new LFV Aviation Research Centre (LARC) at Örnsköldsvik Airport.
- Oil and Gas
The use of drones to evaluate offshore structures allows access to hard-to-reach areas, providing high-resolution inspection images while also improving safety and reducing inspection costs. Guidelines for the use of drones for offshore oil and gas production were released in 2017 by Oil and Gas UK. These provided best practice, certification and best practice procedures that were designed to align with existing offshore platform operating standards, and were updated in December 2019.
- Nuclear Power
Drones have been used at nuclear power stations in the United States to detect temperature anomalies and autonomously survey does rates. In addition, academic research has pointed to the potential for GPR drones with integrated gamma ray detection to characterise buried radioactive objects during nuclear decommissioning, as well as imaging concrete structures for refurbishment.
Military applications include the use of ground penetrating radar to detect landmines and explosives buried underground. This work includes a partnership between The HALO Trust, the US Air Force Academy and One Engineering to equip drones with advanced sensors (including GPR) to detect IEDs. Initial trials have proven successful, with funding for this work being granted by the UK Government including support worth £9.23 million over five years in 2013 and matching up to £2 million of public donations in 2019. GPR technologies have also been purchased from the UK by the United States Army for detecting hidden IEDs.
Drones and other unmanned aerial vehicle technologies have uses in the construction industry, with GPR offering solutions for improved geological surveying and mapping. GPR, when used in conjunction with other mapping technologies such as LIDAR, could be used to produce better above and below ground images of project sites.
The construction industry held the largest market share for drones in 2019, with more companies deploying them for surveying and mapping tasks rather than using traditional land-based methods. Drone use in construction has been shown to reduce both labour costs and time by being able to collect data in real time.
The DamGPR Drone project certainly has benefits for inspecting dams but, as the information above indicates, the technologies developed during the project have plenty of real world applications in other markets, providing benefits for costs, time and safety.
The DamGPR Drone project has received funding from Innovate UK under file reference number: 133909