The word ‘drone might conjure images of covert special-ops in Afghanistan, but unmanned aerial vehicles — or UAVs — are actually being used here at home for everything from mapping to tracking wildlife populations.
“Industry can not get to this technology quick enough,” says professional pilot and cameraman Ian Hannah, who recently spent four weeks in the Arctic using drones to get 360-degree shots of glaciers.
Hannah is the head of Avrobotics, a Toronto-based company with a fleet of five UAVs, ranging in price from $10,000 for a tricked-out Phantom DGI F450 to a $600 entry level rig. Although his drone flights are limited by strict regulations as well as a 12 minute battery life, he thinks we’re about three years away from seeing drones with the ability to fly longer distances and using auto-mapping technology.
This technology could mean huge savings for the energy sector in the future.
Canada transports over three million barrels of oil a day over 200,000 km of pipeline, mostly in Alberta, all of which needs to be inspected on a regular basis.
“The National Energy Board (NEB) holds those companies accountable using a rigorous compliance monitoring and enforcement program,” said NEB spokesperson Rebecca Taylor. “The pipeline right-of-way is monitored through weekly, bi-weekly or monthly inspection.”
According to NEB regulations, pipeline operators can fly over the lines conducting a visual inspection. Currently, this requires a helicopter, but advances in technology may make widespread commercial drone use a reality very soon.
But technology isn’t the only limiting factor.
Transport Canada restricts flying any unmanned aircraft deemed “for gain” (recreational use is okay in Canada though). Hannah completes a 20-page report — typically a day’s work — before every flight and must file it 21 days in advance. Oftentimes he will make air traffic controllers aware of his flight too.
“We treat it like a real aircraft,” said Hannah, who is also a certified pilot.
He anticipates that new regulations will soon emerge to deal with the growing number of people and companies discovering the many applications of UAVs.
“They know people want to use them.”
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