Unmanned Inspections

Growing UAS use improves critical infrastructure evaluation


GEOINT is valuable for evaluating damage to critical infrastructure following an emergency. Thanks to emerging technology, it’s also more poised than ever to help owners build resiliency into critical infrastructure before an emergency, too. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) promise benefits for critical infrastructure evaluation once the Federal Aviation Administration opens airspace for their widespread commercial operation.

“The improvement in inspection capabilities that [UAVs] can provide will serve to mitigate [critical infrastructure] disruptions,” said Charlton Evans, program manager for commercial and civil unmanned systems at Insitu.

Equipped with the right payload of sensors, within a matter of years UAVs will be able to detect, record, and geo-locate vulnerabilities in critical infrastructure, according to Evans, who said the critical infrastructure problem set requires persistent and beyond-line-of-sight platforms—both of which are incoming.

In October 2015, Insitu’s ScanEagle platform completed the first commercial beyond-line-of-sight UAV operation in the contiguous 48 states in Vaughn, N.M., where it demonstrated in partnership with BNSF Railway how UAVs can be used for infrastructure inspection. The demonstration—during which ScanEagle provided real-time video covering 64 miles of BNSF rail—left little doubt, according to Evans:

“Unmanned systems are going to change the speed, accuracy, and, in some cases, the kind of information that we can collect about infrastructure,” he said.

Featured image: Mark LaVille and Kris Kokkely, both advanced tactical systems engineers for Boeing, mount a ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) on a pneumatic wedge catapult launcher. ScanEagle is a UAV system designed to provide persistent intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance data, battle damage assessment, and communications relay. Photo by Cpl. Michael P. Snody, U.S. Marine Corps

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