It seems that we can't get enough of drones, they are everywhere. They're being used to take spectacular and unusual videos that would have once required helicopters and there are also competitions where enthusiasts build their own and race them around obstacle courses using FPV goggles.
But aside from the fun hobbyist and semi-professional or professional videographers, there is a serious side to drones. In the oil and gas industry, inspecting the highest parts of a rig is dangerous time consuming job in which roughnecks are dangled from a wire to assess the most hostile parts of the rig. Because of the harsh conditions in which they find themselves, oil rigs are prone to rust and corrosion caused by the salt in the water and the air and they also work for 40 years instead of the 20 they're designed. Any cracks in the system could be fatal.
Now there are a few companies which are using drones to inspect the tallest hazardous parts of gas refinery live flare stacks and chimneys. By providing live thermal video feeds and photographs of the site, inspectors can immediately see what is going on and save many thousands of dollars in inspection fees and machinery shutoff. This video from Cyberhawk Innovations demonstrates how a drone pilot and an inspector work together to fly the drone and analyze the information. The images are also capable of being sent to a control rooms in real time where a team of engineers can discuss the findings and, if necessary, take immediate action. In some cases, the drones will video the structure and then build a 3D model of it before running algorithms which will map any abnormalities. Some drones even have gas sensors which can sniff out gas leaks as they fly past.
In the future, the plan is to automate the drones so they fly specific routes to ensure that every inch of the structure is covered as they recognize and avoid obstacles. Since drone technology has made huge advances in the last eight or so years, it's easy to see that in the next eight years, self-flying drones will be available.
If you enjoyed these videos, here's one more for you. Put it on full screen and crank up the volume as you get immersed in flying a drone.