Everything has a beginning and so has the work that is being done at Sterblue. Before you can run a sophisticated AI tool or perform an in-depth data analysis, you need the first thing to start with: Data. While we are able to process data from various sources - such as smartphones, helicopters and satellites - this article will focus on images captured by drones.
Since 2016, drones with Sterblue’s software have been flying around thousands of infrastructures spread across 16 different countries. Today, we will tell you 5 things you need to know to fly a drone with Sterblue. Here we go:
1. First things first: Legal requirements
The days where anybody could buy a drone and just start flying it around are no longer to be seen. Every country has implemented regulations in regards to which drones you are allowed to fly in specific areas and which resources you need to perform professional drone flights.
At Sterblue we ask the pilots we work with to meet 3 important requirements. First, to be equipped with the necessary licenses to fly a drone in the country where the inspection is taking place. Second, to have prior experience in industrial inspections and a safety certification to work on isolated assets, such as wind turbines, transmission towers, distribution poles or cooling towers. Third, to be prevented with an insurance of at least 1.5M EUR coverage for professional drone flights.
2. Before flying: Sterblue Academy
To ensure a high quality and safe service, all pilots are going through the Sterblue Academy - an intensive training program that includes not only a set of technical examinations, but also 1:1 sessions with a Sterblue instructor. To succeed, the pilots need to meet a determined level of knowledge and experience in the area. The Sterblue Academy can be attended entirely remotely (and meeting COVID-19 restrictions nowadays) or face-to-face with the support of Sterblue Operations Team.
If you want to become a pilot trained to Sterblue solution, apply here.
3. In the field: laptop, memory card, iPad and ground station
Now let’s come a bit closer to the daily work as a pilot with Sterblue and what is the best equipment to get the job done!
On the computation side, you will need a Laptop to upload the images taken during the mission to the Sterblue Cloud. Next to that, you will need an iPad to run the Sterblue Mobile App, which will give you access to the missions live and the automatic flight technology. Since our App is intensive regarding computational power, we strongly advise using an iPad Pro during the inspection. For the drone, we recommend having either 2-3 64GB SD-Cards or one which has plenty of memory capacity.
Finally, to ensure a precise trajectory, we strongly recommend the use of a ground-based GPS station. Since our ecosystem so far is built around off-the-shelf DJI drones, the compatible ground station is the D-RTK 2 Mobile Station.
4. Up in the air: an off-the-shelf drone compatible with Sterblue software
At Sterblue we are currently using three types of drones for different purposes or structures respectively. For wind turbines, transmission lines and cooling towers, we recommend the DJI Matrice 210 RTK V1 and V2. Alternatively, for inspections being done on distribution grids you can use the DJI Phantom 4 or the DJI Mavic 2 Pro.
The main aspects having an influence on the selection of the drones are their agility, isolation against interference and robustness, but we also take into account the desired quality and resolution of the captured images. Note here, that all customer specifications are communicated to the pilots before each mission is deployed. In general, we recommend the following setup:
Soon, the new DJI Matrice 300 RTK will also be included in the table above!
5. Keep things running: let’s talk about batteries
Drones are like most mobile devices today: they need energy and they need plenty of it. To avoid running out of it, you may want to have enough batteries with you to keep the inspection going. Not only will you most likely find yourself far away from the next socket, but also it can be quite cold sometimes and we all know how fast a phone can die, for example, when exposed to harsh environments. So here you go:
For the Matrice 210 RTK V1, we advise you to have a minimum of 10 batteries of type TB 50 & 55. For the Phantom 4 you should have around 8 batteries of the type PH4. And finally for the Mavic 2 pro we recommend having 8 batteries of type OP2.
A blink into the future: more integrations to come
Currently, we are working on integrating Sterblue software with more operating systems, besides iOS based ones, and more drone providers, besides DJI. So in the future, expect being able to use other devices to compute the inspection trajectory and fly around industrial assets. Good examples are Skydio, with Skydio 2, or the Anafi from Parrot.
If you want to be trained to fly Sterblue solution for wind turbines, feel free to sign up here. In Q3 2020, we are releasing a product trial for everyone who wishes test the features and capabilities of our software. In the future, other applications, such as transmission and distribution grid, will follow! Stay tuned :)
"Sterblue automated flight software allows me to be as efficient as possible, while also feeling secure in my flight path from start to finish. On just my second inspection mission I was able to inspect 11 V-126 turbines in a single day" Andrew Haskins, Managing Partner at National Drone Pros
"Automatic inspections with Sterblue software allowed me to save significant time in the field and thus to offer a better price for the customers. Moreover, Sterblue allows to take high quality pictures and provides a very complete inspection reports. Sterblue's artificial intelligence is constantly improving, both in efficiency and speed of data processing. Sterblue has become essential in its field!" Gilles Cayez, Senior Manager at Le Drone Agile
"Working with Sterblue allows us to have a fluid workflow from flight planning to image analysis. This allows us to be more efficient in the field." Dieudonne Pre, Drone Pilot at African Techno Lab