Watching over you: automated drones becoming a critical part of industrial surveillance

When next there is a movie starring Tom Cruise as a rogue security guard who will stop at nothing to keep the premises and the people therein safe – rules and an uptight manager be damned – you can be
certain the setting of the movie will be a glitzy casino, a hospital under siege, or a laboratory that is for some reason developing a new type of airborne contagion that causes instant death.

What it won’t be is a standard industrial environment, even though every industrial setting is rife with people, critical infrastructure, equipment and resources that all need to be monitored effectively 24 hours a day due to potentially serious threats to human lives, not to mention profits and business processes. Yet what these high-pressure settings need isn’t a Tom Cruise but rather an effective surveillance tool that can complete scheduled surveillance flights, respond instantly to emergencies, and respond to situations too risky for human security personnel. Exactly like a drone.

Standard surveillance
Currently the most common form of surveillance is ground video surveillance using a CCTV system, with
live footage viewed by security personnel tasked with spotting – and often responding to – anomalies,
concerns and emerging issues. The reason it’s the most common is because it’s a pretty good system,
one that has served industries well for decades.

It isn’t without its drawbacks, however. Not only does ground surveillance provide a limited field of
view, it requires multiple ground cameras to obtain a picture of the entire site and even then there
might be blind spots. Furthermore, requiring human employees to respond to situations ranging from
suspected break-ins to fires, chemical leaks and blasting accidents without the maximum amount of
information possible has the potential to put their lives in danger.

Eyes in the sky
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, are quickly gaining popularity as an
effective means of industrial surveillance. Equipped with a full gamut of sensors and analytics software,
drones can achieve a wide field of view, and offer an excellent surveillance solution.

However, surveillance drones can suffer drawbacks of their own. Drone pilots require training and
experience to properly control their craft, which leads to two equally undesirable options: either
security teams need to outsource drone operations, which is very cost-prohibitive, or they need to train
their own drone operators, another significant cost and time expense. These drawbacks impede the
road to adopting surveillance drones, in spite of their clear advantages for situational awareness.

An automatic upgrade
With these points in mind, the most salient benefits of using drones for surveillance can only be
achieved when those drones are automated. Automated drones offer all the advantages of drone
surveillance without any of the logistical complexities, as they require no human operation for
everything from launching from their docking station, flying, transmitting and processing aerial data, and
landing again all that way through to maintenance like battery swapping and sensor changing.

Not only do automated drones remove the logistical complexity of drone surveillance, they provide
much more reliability than human operators. Just like self-driving cars, automated drones are more efficient, more reliable, and safer than human drivers. And since they’re always ready to go, automated
drones provide an on-demand and emergency response surveillance solution.

Situational awareness
Automated drones can be scheduled to perform a variety of surveillance tasks automatically, from
perimeter sweeps to routine surveillance. More importantly, they can react dynamically, with security
officers issuing instructions through intuitive visual tools. For example, a drone equipped with the
appropriate sensors could be sent in to a hazardous area to test for a dangerous gas leak. Or, a drone
could be instructed to monitor a site intruder while security officers devise a threat response.

Since automated drones can provide unlimited aerial data, including real-time video and sensor reading,
they can also be paired with analytics software to identify security risks. The drone could use thermal
imaging sensor data to detect potential intruders, or gas sensor data to detect potential gas leaks, and
send its findings to security officers on the ground for review. Beyond simply serving as a tool for
security officers to monitor a site, automated drones can actively help identify threats as they arise.

Using the same sensors and software, automated drones can also be used to monitor critical
infrastructure, that which could lead to disaster in the event of a malfunction. And with their automatic
deployment, automated drones could be used to respond to such disasters, simply by performing
proactive and regular inspections of equipment and infrastructure. Drones can reach difficult and
dangerous areas, such as high locations that humans can’t easily get to, and then recognize potential
problems through advanced image processing algorithms.

The best tool for the job
Industrial surveillance and security is both a complex and potentially dangerous job, and security officers
require the most effective tools possible to safely complete their work. Automated surveillance drones
can help eliminate risks to security officers while offering numerous advantages including increased
efficiency, higher reliability, and on-demand availability for the emergency situations that can occur in
an industrial setting.

Image by Powie pixabay

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