Digitization is Driving the Drone Market in Enterprise: The Evolution of 3D Models and Digital Twins
“Scale” is a word of the month in the drone industry. While large industry and Fortune 500 companies have been using drones to gather data for years now, a combination of regulatory gray areas, complex workflows, and the lack of a clear and easily realized ROI has held many industries back from integrating drones into their operations at scale.
That seems to be changing. Greater clarity on regulations, more automation in drone platforms, easier workflows and better analytics are delivering on something critically important to enterprise businesses: digitization. Digital Transformation and the efficiencies realized are so important to the post-COVID enterprise that there is a 2-letter abbreviation for it: DX. Digitization is the process of converting data into a computer-readable, or digital, format – and according to PTC, more than 70% of enterprise companies are actively engaged in DX projects.
Drones and Digital Twins
Drones are instrumental in the process. Previous efforts at digitization for industries whose business is based on a portfolio of field assets – like telecom towers, transportation infrastructure, or energy – involved moving to large ERP systems and uploading documents or images to them. While better than a paper-based system, this stops short of true digitization. Drones, with their unique ability to carry a camera and fly intricate patterns entirely around a field asset with enough precision to generate a true, accurate digital twin of an asset, are a game changer. With digital twins, companies can apply AI-based analytics and reporting against immersive 3D models of field assets, enabling completely new value propositions and efficiencies.
At last month’s Commercial UAV Expo, DRONELIFE had the opportunity to speak with Yariv Geller, CEO and Founder of vHive. vHive has been in the business of delivering digital data to large industries since 2016, through their digital twin platform. Geller has been at the forefront of the market evolution: from data gathering to AI-driven data analytics and Digital Twins.
vHive began with a platform that provided an automation platform for commercial, off-the-shelf drones: automatically developing the correct flight plan around a field asset. The flight is entirely automated – which means the data gathering is consistent in quality every time, regardless of the operator.
“The drone is a means to the end of the digital twin – in itself, it’s a dramatic shift in the way things are done. Autonomous data acquisition and digital twin platforms need each other. The story of digitization,” says Geller, “is really the evolution of the drone market.”
“When we started out, our first goal was to bring data from the field. That piqued a lot of interest: but companies that started working with drones quickly found themselves in a data flood.” Drones might have done a better job at gathering data from inaccessible assets, Geller points out – but companies were then faced with new issues of data management and the need to get effective results from a survey or inspection.
From “It’s Not the Drone, It’s the Data” to Analytics
While enabling the process, drones aren’t the focus of DX efforts – but the drone industry is benefitting from digitization at scale. “Companies have drifted mostly to focus on the analytics – they don’t care how the data comes in,” Geller says. “Drones, by now, aren’t news.”
“The age of data has turned into the age of analytics. Businesses can’t hire someone to go through each image – then you’ve just moved the difficulties and problems from one place to another. Developing a 3D model, a reality model, from those images simplifies things. From there, the next step customers ask is how can I further analyze this? How can I automatically understand what is on this site without looking at every detail?”
“Analytics fall into two major categories right now – the first is ‘things of interest’ and the second is ‘faults.’ If I have these analytics integrated into my workflows, I can bring my targeted workforce to bear where they are needed.
As a next level, once you have a digital portfolio, you can get insights on a portfolio level. This is the evolution that we’ve seen as we grow.”
Digitization and Drone Industry Scale
Drones may not be the focus, but digitization is driving drone purchases and the adoption of drone technology throughout big companies. “These are large enterprises,” Geller says. “The cool thing is that digital twins serve a very broad audience in the company: network operations, quality control, leasing, engineering – everyone gets a benefit. Different companies are driven by different groups: some are very engineering driven, other safety and risk management driven. Typically, there is a champion in one group that drives things, and they bring everyone else on board.”
Not only does digitization drive value, but there are fewer regulatory barriers for companies to overcome to take advantage of field asset surveys, inspections, and digital twin technology. “Digitization is a relatively low-friction domain compared to delivery, or transportation, or BVLOS,” says Geller. “There are so many things that you can do that do not require special legislation and can be accomplished with what we have today. I think digitization will grow faster because of that.”
As a market, digitization itself is rapidly evolving into new forms. “We started by targeting the main end customer in specific verticals,” says Geller. “We are now expanding into service providers to that industry because companies that service field assets are a secondary market. In the tower industry, the tower company that own the site, the customer that leases the equipment, the insurance companies: the same data benefits many stakeholders. One of the cool things is that the same product can serve many different customers, and the benefit is compounded. Every stakeholder doesn’t necessarily need to perform their own survey.”
Source: Dronelife, October 5, 2022