drones transmission lines inspection
Image credit Kitsadakron Pongha©123RF.com

Drones are no longer a sci-fi film device but an everyday piece of technology used in anything from search and rescue efforts to site inspections by engineers.

Sending the drones beyond your line of sight though comes with the problem that an automated drone could accidentally hit another aircraft or other object in the sky that it wasn’t aware of. This is where software like Iris Automation’s Casia saves the day.

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Casia is the first commercially available 360-degree radial computer vision Detect-and-Avoid (DAA) system for Unmanned Aircraft Systems. An integrated onboard hardware and software solution, Casia enables safe Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations. This means a drone can fly an automated path beyond your own line of sight, extending its reach for only a mile or two to 50 miles and beyond. This can reduce operating costs and enable a wide range of long-distance commercial applications.

Established in 2015, Iris Automation’s first big project was a BVLOS flight operation in the northernmost part of the US to inspect a 3.87 mile section of oil pipeline without any visual observers.

Dean van Aswegen is Iris Automation’s Africa region consulting manager: “While four miles of inspection doesn’t sound like a big deal, for both Iris Automation and the drone industry, it was huge. Our small team travelled over 2,000 miles and partnered with the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), along with multiple technology providers and academic institutions.”

“It took a long time and a lot of effort to convince people that our technology was legitimate, but our persistence paid off. The project was awarded a Part 107 waiver by the FAA – the first of its kind using only detect-and-avoid technology to safely mitigate air risk,” explained van Aswegen.

Moving beyond theory in Africa to real-life applications

Iris Automation has since expanded to work in Canada, India and the UK. They are also operating early access projects in Tanzania and Nigeria, with commercial customers already making use of their technology in South Africa. Van Aswegen will talk to ESI Africa Editor, Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl, in a digital Fireside Chat on 26 November about the company’s new mission to explore business opportunities in Africa.

Currently, Iris Automation software is incorporated into drones which do anything from utility and power line and pipeline inspections to search and rescue monitoring plus precision agriculture. Package delivery by drone has been a reality in Ghana and Rwanda for years. Recently drone deliveries helped far-flung healthcare centres in the two countries to receive much-needed medicines to people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Check out the Iris Automation team in action in the video below:

There are many situations where commercial drones provide a viable alternative to existing methods. “The obvious ones are covering large, remote areas – such as utilities’ inspections – otherwise inaccessible to ground transportation and where flights using manned aircraft such as helicopters are extremely expensive.”

“One partner, for example, is delivering critical medical supplies to remote locations – islands served only by long, slow boat services, areas that have no airfield or become inaccessible to ground transportation during certain weather events.

“Another surprising use case we’ve been asked by a customer to support is doing endangered species surveys across long stretches of coastline,” explained van Aswegen.

Operating drones beyond visual line of sight requires special permission

Drones can also be used for security applications where monitoring of crowds is called for or inspection of power lines in case of suspected vandalism: “Drones fitted with Iris Automation’s DAA technology Casia can certainly be used for surveillance services. Unlike helicopters, they can frequently fly over long distances to monitor vandalism or other activities at a much lower cost.”

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The use of drones is not a free-for-all scenario in any country because aviation authorities need to issue special permission to allow one to operate in specific BVLOS conditions. These approvals are difficult to achieve though, as they require drone operators to show how the necessary risk mitigations address the safety of either other aircraft, people or property below. Iris Automation has developed a resource centre that helps you simplify and accelerate this kind of application process.

You can learn more about how to prepare your company to apply to use commercial drone flights at www.irisonboard.com or register for the Fireside Chat on 26 November to find out more.