Switzerland-headquartered senseFly was formed in 2009 and operates in Europe, North America and Australia. Diarmaid Williams spoke to Benjamin Pinguet, the company’s Inspection Product Manager

Q: How does senseFly distinguish itself from other drone operators?

A: senseFly’s key differentiator from other drone operators is our focus on delivering highly accurate, actionable insights through integrated unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) solutions. In recent years, we have developed a series of end-to-end solutions, such as the senseFly Inspection 360, to support professionals working on commercial projects in multiple sectors – from planning flights to making decisions using collected data.

Q: How does the company view the utilities sector and what sorts of projects has it been involved in to date?

A: The versatility of senseFly’s solutions has resulted in our products being used in a number of applications within the power and utilities sector, and we expect this market to continue growing in coming years.

A recent example is Idaho-based engineering consulting firm POWER Engineers, which used a senseFly eBee drone to collect GIS data of a 12-mile corridor prior to the installation of a new high voltage transmission line in Phoenix, Arizona. Thanks to the eBee’s in-built safety features, employees from POWER Engineers were able to collect accurate, high quality aerial photography and ground elevations to identify the most suitable location to install the line, with little to no risk to existing transmission lines or facilities in the area.

By using senseFly’s proprietary flight and data management software, eMotion, POWER Engineers further streamlined processes and saved both time and money in future drone projects.

Q: Can you tell us about the qualities of your software products and how they can benefit companies in the power sector?

A: To complement our drone hardware offering, we developed eMotion, a simple, professional-grade flight management software. eMotion includes intuitive mission planning blocks and flight modes suitable for a range of applications including the power sector, and enables safer, more detailed and consistent flight planning and execution. This faster, more accurate mapping can facilitate more time and cost-effective flight planning, enabling power industry professionals to spend less time planning projects and more time analyzing results.

To offer our customers a more integrated approach to data capture, we recently introduced our senseFly 360 solutions in verticals such as surveying and inspection. From flight planning with eMotion to data processing with powerful Pix4D photogrammetry software, senseFly 360 solutions offer professionals in the power and utilities sector detailed, accurate insights in real-time to improve the efficiency, safety and automation of UAV data capture to support decision making.

This has been possible thanks to the time we’ve invested in creating strong, strategic partnerships with software providers such as Pix4D and Airware, which we will continue to nurture to maintain the high level of expertise, service and return-on-investment that our customers expect.

Q: Are there any particular regulatory challenges at the moment to the facilitation of your technology, or anything you would like to change?

A: While regulations on the use of drones continue to evolve, the utilities sector is one of many industries across the globe that has been subject to stringent regulatory restrictions on the use of UAVs in national airspace. Since Part 107 came into effect in August 2016, however, more and more businesses in the US have been able to receive certification to carry out missions in approved airspaces, which has helped to facilitate much wider adoption of UAVs in professional applications. Prior to this, special exemptions were needed in some countries, which prolonged projects and severely limited the scope and opportunity for commercial drone use. We look forward to further developments in these regulations as awareness and understanding of the potential commercial benefits of drones increases worldwide.

Q: Any current or future projects in the utility area?

A: Silicon Valley-based global solar technology company SunPower is using senseFly solutions in the development of the Gala Solar Power Plant, which is currently under construction on a 130-acre site in Oregon, US. As part of its offering, SunPower provides site evaluation and layout design services, in which they use drone technology to collect detailed, accurate site data. These insights are then used to compare thousands of potential solar farm layouts to help inform which option will better optimize energy production. Using senseFly drones in this project has allowed SunPower to gather data in a fraction of the time needed to conduct a land survey using terrestrial or manned equipment, maximizing the efficiency of SunPower’s prospecting and design cycles. In an industry where land is a commodity, operating with greater speed and efficiency has made it possible for SunPower to remain competitive, and has supported the growth of its global drone programme.

Q: Are there any learnings from other sectors that will be useful in helping utilities and power companies meet their challenges?

A: UAV technology has proven to be highly effective in a wide range of sectors, and its capacity to improve the speed and efficiency of site mapping has facilitated time and cost savings for businesses worldwide. The uptake of this technology is, however, more advanced in some sectors than others. For instance, many professionals in the surveying industry have now fully integrated drone solutions into their workflow and operations, while in the construction sector, businesses are benefiting from the increased safety offered by aerial methods. With power industry professionals needing to balance accuracy with safety on site, industries such as construction demonstrate how the technology can be used to make informed decisions on a day-to-day basis and with reduced risk to employees.