Buzzin’ into the New Year: A 2022 Recap
From record-breaking funding allocations to fast-moving innovation, 2022 has proven to be an immense year of growth in the energy infrastructure sector. From generation to transmission to storage, substantial progress has been made across the board to push the industry closer toward its renewable energy goals and digitization efforts. For example, generation set a new monthly renewables record with 25% of energy produced by renewable sources in the first half of 2022. The historic Infrastructure Bill also brings a pool of much-needed funding to the sector, with over $65 billion being dedicated to grid infrastructure and resilience initiatives.
At Buzz Solutions, we continue to see tremendous growth in the industry, more specifically in the inspection and maintenance spaces, which continues to bring exciting new deployments. As we look ahead to the start of 2023 in just a few days, we thought it would be helpful to reflect on how far we’ve come this year and what we are excited about this upcoming year.
2022 Market Recap for inspections
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), estimates that the infrastructure investment gap in America is around $2.59 trillion over 10 years. The worsening condition of our infrastructure has spurred innovation in the industry. In energy, advances in electricity infrastructure, such as smart grid and proactive maintenance technologies are improving the efficiency and value of inspections. While 2022 has advanced in various aspects of the inspection market, we felt it would be best suited to focus on two areas where there is quickly-moving growth in the data collection market: BVLOS and autonomous drone capabilities.
In the inspection space, the Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) regulation continues to top of mind. BVLOS is a term relating to the operation of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and drones at distances outside the normal visible range of the pilot. To date, BVLoS has served as one of the biggest barriers to more autonomous inspections. As autonomous capabilities quickly advance, the expansion of BVLOS Part 107.31 waivers granted each year unlocks huge opportunities for disruption in the inspections industry. Drones spend more time in the air during BVLOS operations, decreasing the cost of inspections and making them more efficient. Currently, more than 1,200 BVLOS license applications have been submitted to the FAA in the United States; this number will continue increasing as authorities further increase access to this license.
Coupled with BVLOS waivers, autonomous drones are an innovative and powerful force in enabling scalable, sustainable, and efficient inspection programs. Substantial investments are being made in this sector by some of the largest market players, including: Boeing, Google, Amazon and Airbus. Between 2023-2033, the autonomous drone market is projected to grow at 17.6% CAGR. The ability to conduct inspections with drones that follow preset flight routes without the need for a human operator and observer oversight is a big step in achieving full inspection autonomy. With autonomous flights paired with drone docking stations in the field, inspection data can be collected much faster, on demand, more cost effectively, and with fewer truck rolls needed. Moreover, it frees up human labor resources to focus on more critical, reason-based tasks and automate the more manual, mundane ones.
As we inch towards a world of more comprehensive autonomous inspection programs, the amount of data being collected continues to skyrocket. As such, the need for a streamlined way to manage, analyze, track, and report the data collected becomes more critical. At Buzz, our mission is to advance the automation of inspections by using AI to analyze visual data, and it’s exciting to see other forms of automation throughout the inspection workflow.
2022 Industry Challenges
While the utility market continues to make record strides in electrification, grid modernization, and adoption of renewable energy resources, there are several challenges which still plague the industry and must be addressed in order to achieve success in each of these areas.
Specifically to the inspection space, the lack of data standardization continues to be an issue which limits the efficacy and adoption of digital solutions such as artificial intelligence. As utilities deploy digital and smart infrastructure solutions, utilities are collecting tremendous amounts of data in the form of sensor data, visual data, meter data, etc. In order for this data to serve a productive purpose, it must be properly formatted, analyzed, and delivered in easily digestible formats. On its own, raw data is not as impactful, but when it is delivered in an easy and actionable way, it is highly impactful. This is where the value of an artificial intelligence (AI) solution comes into play. With respect to infrastructure inspections, many utilities are building comprehensive programs which include a variety of data sources, such as helicopters, drones, static cameras, and ground-based imagery, just to name a few. Within that framework, there are various types of drones, cameras, and flight mapping solutions, ultimately lending to an inconsistent method of data collection. The lack of consistency across industry presents a challenge when it comes to analyzing the data with an automated solution. In order to successfully train an AI-powered analytics solution for visual data collected which performs in various scenarios, some form of data standardization for collection becomes necessary. When data is collected in a consistent manner, an AI-powered solution can learn faster and more effectively, enabling better analysis, tracking and reporting. As we look to the future of inspections, this is certainly one of the key challenges the industry must address.
Where is the Innovation Happening?
It is quite an exciting time to be serving the utilities market, not only with all of the technology innovations and deployments, but also with the immense funding and resources flowing into the sector. The historic Infrastructure Bill was passed this year and just as we are wrapping up the end of 2022, the first opportunities have come available for submissions of innovative ideas, technologies, and deployments via grant applications. This enables faster grid modernization and reliability deployments at scale, while also mitigating financial impact for utilities to these innovations by leveraging government-sponsored projects. 2023 will be a tremendous opportunity to see these funds spring into action as grants are awarded and projects are launched.
While we have already talked about BVLOS operations as well as autonomous drones, there are many more innovations in the drone space to be excited about. We wanted to highlight the following:
Drone deliveries: the pressure of no-contact deliveries during covid-19 pushed innovators to launch autonomous drones capable of end-to-end deliveries of commercial and industrial products.
Air purifying drones: with air pollution being such a grave problem in countries such as China and India. Prototypes for drones capable of autonomously flying to highly polluted areas and purifying the air are already being tested.
Pipe inspection robots: many companies have launched a drone capable of moving inside pipe networks and performing maintenance inspections. Some drones are capable of detecting methane leaks and thermal disparities.
Beyond drones, the sector also explores various other means of data collection, including ground-based robotics, static cameras, sensors, helicopters, fixed-wing aircrafts, and truck-based data collection, just to name a few. Each type of data collection has its own strengths and weaknesses, be that speed, resolution, cost, angle, or frequency of collection. The process of how the data collected is not nearly as relevant as what happens with the information once it’s been collected. As long as the data collected captures the relevant components and also delivers high resolution, the analytics process is the critical piece, which is where asset management, data management, Artificial Intelligence, and analytics is key.
Where does AI fit into the inspection workflow?
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning processes have been transforming industries for a decade now. As technological advances in computation capabilities increase, this leads to innovations in AI algorithms and business models productizing them. In the infrastructure inspection industries, we are witnessing higher adoption of stationary (IoT) and mobile (UAVs) based sensors collecting data. As data collection processes are becoming more standardized, automation and AI workflows are being deployed at scale.
For instance, drones and UAVs are deploying autonomous and Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLoS) capabilities as regulatory organizations grant further waivers to drone manufacturers and providers in the US after thorough testing processes. AI and more specifically Computer Vision technology holds a key responsibility to provide perception power to these aerial vehicles in order to provide unmanned and autonomous flight inspections. More generally, this technology acts as a processing unit for these aerial machines in order to understand their physical environment and make autonomous decisions easily and accurately. Power utilities are deploying such technologies for their inspection and maintenance efforts in order to make their inspection workflows more efficient and safe. One such idea that is being tested by utilities is the drone-in-the-box solution where drone stations are deployed fixed distances around power infrastructure and the drones are autonomously flown around the segment of infrastructure for inspections.
The energy industry is at a stage where scaling AI and automation is the next big step for making various industrial processes more efficient and safe. One such area of the industry where scalable AI along with sensor technology will bring immense benefits is the continuous condition assessment and monitoring of energy infrastructure in order to prevent it from failing.
Successes for Buzz Solutions
2022 was a banner year for Buzz Solutions, as we saw significant growth in our client base and expanded our solutions into the transmission and distribution space. One particularly notable achievement was our announcement of our scaling deployment with the New York Power Authority's (NYPA) in-house drone program, where we are utilizing artificial intelligence to streamline and improve NYPA's workflow. In addition to serving clients in North America, we also made strides in expanding our international market, with a presence in Europe and Australia. Overall, it has been a highly successful year for Buzz Solutions, and we look forward to continuing to offer top-quality solutions and service to our clients around the globe.
But that's not all – we are continuously looking for new opportunities to utilize our cutting-edge artificial intelligence technology, and this year we made the exciting move into the realm of substations. By using our AI in real-time, we are able to detect potential threats or faults within substations, providing valuable insights and helping to keep these important systems running smoothly. Overall, it has been a fantastic year for Buzz Solutions, and we look forward to continuing to push the boundaries and offer innovative solutions to our clients.
Enjoyed reading this article? Share this with your colleagues.