It's not a hidden fact that aerial inspections are far more effective than manual inspections when it comes to collecting accurate site data.
Drone inspections are transforming almost every industry that requires visual inspections as part of its maintenance program. Using commercial drones to inspect and survey complex areas such as tanks, vessels, structures, and pipelines allows inspectors to speed up the collection of inspection data while eliminating the slower manual steps that put them at risk.
Now, some companies provide a vast array of drone inspection services across the oil & gas, energy, and resource sectors.
In this article, we will share everything about drone inspections, including the best inspection drones, the goals of drone inspection services, benefits, and drone applications in inspections.
10 Best inspection drones for sale
Are you looking for some rugged inspection drones? The best is not the right one for you. You should always use your specific inspection needs as a guide to pick one. Here are our recommended top 10 best inspection drones in the market:
JOUAV CW-15 - Best drone for powerline inspection
The CW-15 is the workhorse of power line inspections. The CW-15 VTOL drone has a maximum payload of 3 kg and can be equipped with a variety of different sensors. Used for RGB, thermal, and LiDAR data capture in low, middle, and high voltage lines, they are one of the best-performing drones for power line inspection.
The CW-15 has a maximum flight time of 180 minutes and a transmission range of 50 km. Equipped with binocular obstacle avoidance sensors and an ADS-B receiver, this drone gives advanced obstacle detection and avoidance capabilities. It also comes with multiple redundant systems, so that even if one system fails, there is always a backup when performing critical tasks.
This is an all-weather drone that allows power line inspectors to use it in light rain, snow, and high winds. Its advanced features are powered by artificial intelligence and autonomous flight modes.
Flyability Elios 3 - Best drone for confined space inspection
The Flyability Elios 3 is a drone enclosed in a protective cage which allows it to operate in confined environments. It allows him to bounce off obstacles without interrupting his mission. The Elios 3 is primarily used for industrial and emergency purposes where conventional drones cannot operate.
The Elios 3 can be equipped with the Ouster OS0-32 LiDAR sensor. Combined with the onboard SLAM-based FlyAware mapping software, this LiDAR drone can create and record a 3D computer model of its surroundings in real-time. Designed for indoor inspections, the drone carries an onboard LED lighting system with remotely adjustable intensity to take the best photos in virtually any lighting condition.
Its lithium battery can fly for 12.5 minutes on a single charge. The entire drone is IP44 waterproof, which means it is protected from splashing water from all directions. It can also operate in environments between 0° and 50°C.
Autel EVO II 640T - Best drone for roof inspections
As the best drone for home inspectors, the Autel EVO II 640T consists of an RGB camera with a 1/2-inch sensor capable of capturing 48MP images and recording 8k videos. The camera features 8x digital zoom (4x lossless) and records 4k video with a higher color dynamic range.
It also has a thermal camera with a resolution of 640×512 and a refresh rate of 30Hz. The camera features a picture-in-picture mode that allows operators to overlay thermal image data onto an RGB image for a more detailed analysis of the inspected area.
The drone comes with a remote control that has a large OLED screen that provides access to a series of temperature analysis tools. With an obstacle avoidance system, intelligent flight modes, and a battery life of 38 minutes, the EVO II 640T gives users the ability to inspect multiple rooftops in a fraction of the time.
DJI Matrice 300 RTK - Best drone for bridge inspection
As DJI's most advanced drone, the Matrice 300 RTK uses real-time kinetic (RTK) positioning and advanced artificial intelligence for precise positioning, which reduces the hassle of setting up ground control points, such as highways, valleys, and bodies of water under bridges.
This RTK drone has six directional sensors to help it avoid obstacles and three gimbals, including an upward gimbal, which is perfect for tough angles on bridges. This drone can be equipped with Zenmuse H20 series cameras, including a 20-megapixel camera with 23x optical zoom, a thermal camera, and a laser rangefinder. These powerful cameras and sensors provide you with all the detailed bridge inspection data you need.
Its drone has an IP45 rating, plus it can withstand temperatures from -20 to 50 ºC and 55 minutes of autonomous flight time, among other features that make it the right drone for bridge inspection.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro - Best drone for building inspection
DJI Phantom 4 Pro is a good drone for building inspection because it is lightweight and portable. Equipped with a 1-inch image sensor, this drone captures 20-megapixel images and records 4k videos at 60 fps, making it possible to freeze fast-moving objects in the frame and capture high-speed action with stunning clarity.
With intelligent flight modes, this drone can auto-generate building plans with accurate measurements, and perform automated inspection and mapping flights. Supported by a very large number of specialized third-party software platforms, this drone also gives you the freedom to perform specific roof inspection tasks programmed by experts to create 3-D computer models of your customers' roofs.
This long-range drone has an extended range of 7 km and 30 minutes of flight time with 1080p live streaming and automatic frequency switching thanks to OcuSync 2.0.
Airobotics - Best drone for solar panel inspection
Airobotics is an unattended multi-rotor drone hangar system manufactured by Airobotics. This drone can deploy and land autonomously with pre-programmed missions and applications, collect aerial data, and analyze it through the system to provide clear images of hard-to-reach solar panel blades and other machinery. After completing the flight, the drone returns to the hangar to recharge; and sends the processed data to the customer/drone pilot.
Airobotics drone hangar includes many advanced features such as GPS redundancy and emergency landing. Besides, it supports a rugged, waterproof design that is ideal for a wide range of indoor/outdoor environments and can operate in a temperature range of -20 to 50 °C (-4 to +122 °F).
JOUAV CW-25E - Best drone for mining inspection
One of JOUAV's most popular professional drones, the CW-25E is a well-built drone that can fly in windy and wet weather. The drone is equipped with a 100MP medium-format camera, so you can capture high-resolution pictures and a large area per flight. With these detailed images, your team can easily track a shaft, incline, adit, or opencast mine.
The CW-25E can also take a dual gimbal camera with a 30x visible zoom sensor and infrared sensor to live stream video, which allows you to explore potential mineral deposits and track your equipment in real-time. Quick and easy to use, this drone encourages more frequent and regular data capture, at a more granular level.
Thanks to the RTK and PPK modules, the UAV can automatically check in harsh environments with its intelligent flight mode and obstacle avoidance system. Lastly, this drone with longest flight time has a maximum flight time of 240 minutes and a range of 100 km.
JOUAV CW-40 - Best inspection drone for oil and gas
The JOUAV CW-40 drone has become the first choice when it comes to inspections in the oil and gas industry. The drone provides real-time data, allowing teams to make quick maintenance decisions, saving time and money.
The heavy lift drone has a maximum payload capacity of up to 10 kg, which can carry multiple payloads. Paired with MG-150E dual-sensor payload, the CW-40 provides inspection teams with a number of solutions to perform their tasks. The 30x optical zoom camera, 640*512 thermal sensor, and 4 km laser rangefinder provide users with close-up and detailed images without compromising quality.
With a binocular obstacle avoidance system, the CW-40 can self-correct when encountering obstacles, which greatly reduces the risk of collision and avoids any flight interruption.
The drone has an extended flight time of 600 minutes and a range of 200 km, which is ideal for long-term missions. In addition, the CW-40 can endure harsh operating conditions, including light and moderate rain. As a result, inspection teams can rest assured that they will be able to perform their missions in most weather conditions.
Yunnec H520 - Best drone for tower inspection
Using Yuneec's proven six-rotor platform, the H520 features a higher load capacity, increased flying time, and three camera options (E90CGO-ET and E50). It offers a thermal camera option which is suitable for tower inspections. Using a camera that allows for high accuracy while zooming, the thermal drone is able to fly at a significant distance from a cell tower or transmission tower but still collect clear, usable images.
The H520 comes with Intel RealSen Technology, ensuring that the drone doesn't run into any obstacles along the path. The strong battery of this drone allows it to fly for half an hour. A long controlling range of up to 1.5 km enables you to take more amazing photos and record videos.
DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise - Best drone for wind turbine inspection
DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise can transmit 1080p video in real-time for 31 minutes. With its 8 km control range, it can move at a speed of 72 km/h in sports mode. Its equipped vision camera has a 4x lossless zoom and up to 32x digital zoom, allowing you to accurately view the fine details of the wind turbine from a safe distance. There are additional thermal features. With a 640×512 thermal resolution camera, this drone can help detect any energy loss and performance issues.
This drone also has an impressive 31 minutes of maximum flight time and 10 km of maximum range. Lightweight and compact, the Mavic 2 can be set up in less than 5 minutes and is able to fly in complex working environments. Additionally, this drone also offers an optional RTK function that gives you a centimeter accuracy.
What are drone inspections and how do they work?
Drones have become critical to these industries that rely on visual inspections to complete their maintenance protocols and procedures. A drone inspection is a process of using drones to look for potential maintenance issues. The drone acts as the inspector's eyes and will fly over and around the asset, allowing the inspector to take a closer look at all relevant areas that need maintenance.
In addition to visual inspections, drones can carry different sensors to perform different inspections. For example, some companies use thermal imaging drones to remotely measure temperatures, analyze heat issues, and detect gas and liquid leaks and heat discrepancies.
5 Benefits of using drones in inspections
Using drones for inspections has many advantages over traditional manual inspection methods.
Lower inspection costs
Companies and other organizations are increasingly turning to the use of drones to inspect their infrastructure, most importantly for economic reasons. Aerial inspections with drones are often faster and can reduce preparation time, equipment, and manpower.
Traditional manual inspections require assembling scaffolding (and subsequent disassembly), preparing harnesses, and verifying that the air in the area is breathable. Using a drone, however, eliminates the need for these preparations, which not only increases the efficiency of the inspection process and saves time and resources that could be used for other tasks, but also saves money directly.
On the other hand, by reducing the risk faced by the inspectors, the company can also reduce the cost of the liability insurance it must take out.
Better imagery and data collection
Drones can provide broader coverage when taking photos, videos, measurements, or thermal images. And it's easier to take measurements or capture images from certain angles or locations that are impossible for workers to do.
In addition, drones can capture as many shots as possible in the exact location over and over again. This makes it easy to compare before-and-after images of maintenance or repair work. Engineers can use aerial imagery obtained by drones to accurately assess the condition of structures, and plan and determine the progress of work.
Today's drones can be integrated with sensors such as infrared imaging devices and gas leak detectors to collect more diverse parameters. This allows them to obtain more complete data in a very short period of time. Using communication technologies such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or mobile data, these devices can transmit data, allowing interested parties to see images even in real-time.
The 3D Mesh is showing a large open pit mine in China. The imagery was captured via a CW-25E drone (or UAV).
Drones eliminate the need to transport and install scaffolding, ladders, and other access equipment, reducing the cost and time of inspection efforts. Traditional inspection methods require long lead times, heavy access equipment setups and manual data collection processes.
Unlike traditional inspection methods, drone inspections reduce the time it takes to evaluate structures and make the necessary decisions to repair the damage before it leads to more expensive failures. Drone inspections can be planned and completed in less than an hour while using traditional manual methods can take days or weeks.
Ability to reach hard-to-reach places
Drones offer a cheaper, faster, and safer way to inspect any type of structure. Most buildings, especially those with complex designs and roofs, are often difficult to inspect using traditional methods. They require specialized climbing equipment with experienced and skilled labor, which is why the cost is higher.
Drones can access confined spaces or hard-to-reach areas of complex structures at much less cost, time, and risk. This makes it possible to inspect areas that would otherwise be very difficult to reach with traditional means. In some cases, workers are limited in their access to surfaces.
As a result, collecting valuable data from these areas becomes impossible. Drones, on the other hand, can get as close as possible and take high-resolution images. By allowing engineers to obtain information from virtually any area, drones expand the coverage area and increase the reliability of assessment and maintenance programs.
Drones can access areas that are difficult to access and pose a risk to the safety and health of workers. In addition to being able to enter confined or hazardous spaces, drones require less effort, unlike traditional methods that may even require special clothing and equipment if inspecting hazardous areas. And it is drones that allow workers to inspect buildings from a safe distance, thus eliminating the need to bring workers to dangerous locations.
As a result, drones offer a faster, safer, and more cost-effective option for building inspections than traditional manual methods. In fact, they provide a wide range of benefits, such as reduced inspection risk, lower costs, and faster access to structural condition information.
How drones are used in inspections?
Nowadays, many industries benefit from UAV inspections. Below, we will describe how different industries use UAVs for inspections, the benefits drones provide, and more.
Agriculture drone inspections
Drones are destined to become a valuable tools for farmers because they can diagnose and observe the state of crops in real time over very large areas without causing damage to the soil or stationary crops.
Agricultural drones not only allow visual inspection of the land to identify weed or pest damage. It is also equipped with a variety of sensors that facilitate the analysis of a range of data: nitrogen levels, chlorophyll, biomass, humidity, water stress, etc. In addition, the low altitude and high resolution of the drones make it possible to collect aerial views that are more relevant than satellite images, whether for viticulture and arboriculture or market gardening, horticulture, and major cereal crops.
Thanks to all this information, farmers can precisely adjust the level of fertilizer or other pesticides to be applied, as well as the area in question. For farmers who regularly use drones, we have noticed a significant reduction in the amount of liquid used to treat the crop, thus promoting sustainable and rational agriculture. Yields have also improved, and even though the acquisition costs of the most advanced drones amount to several thousand euros, the return on investment is relatively quick.
Chemicals drone inspections
The rise of industrial drone inspections in the chemical industry has helped plant operators monitor critical infrastructure, providing high-quality reporting data while improving safety and additional economic benefits.
Drones are increasingly being used by chemical processing companies to monitor assets, gas leaks, or emissions outdoors because of their ability to reach elevated platforms. Dow Chemical, for example, is using drones to inspect flares, distillation towers, and pipelines at its facilities. Equipped with high-resolution cameras and sensors, these drones can accurately assess conditions and identify temperature anomalies in flare stacks.
In addition to outdoor monitoring, drones can enter hazardous confined spaces such as tanks, cables, stirrers, reactors, or pressure vessels to inspect for leaks or cracks, identify signs of rust and corrosion, and locate dropped or unwanted items within the asset.
Construction drone inspections
Construction companies have been using drone inspections for some time now to help quickly gather aerial data on the status of the entire site and to understand and monitor project progress.
Construction companies use drones for 3 main reasons.
- Real-time monitoring: The drone and its camera are remotely connected to a device that shows you a record of that moment. It shows us the whole traceability of the work and the environmental impact study.
- Inspecting a specific point: The size and mobility of the drone are perfect for areas that are large and difficult to access or where visual inspection is time-consuming and dangerous, such as cranes, towers, bridges, roads, and railroads.
- Show your customers the results of your engineering work: a bird's eye view of the results is more attractive and pleasing to the eye of those interested in engineering.
The future use of drones is destined to monitor large buildings and very complex sites. They offer all the perspective and the space, time, and cost savings that come with this type of work. This, along with the use of BIM and new construction materials, will ensure the efficiency of future buildings. The use of a drone in construction can reduce the total cost of work by an average of 25%, and the data they capture using laser sensors is analyzed and used in every phase of the work project.
Infrastructure and utility drone inspections
Infrastructure is inspected with drones because maintenance and repair of these structures is often a laborious task, depending on the extent of damage, the size of the infrastructure itself, or the difficulty of accessing a particular area. Thanks to drones, more and more companies are seeking to speed up the maintenance and repair of infrastructure, reducing execution time, risk and cost.
A variety of industries are currently using or intend to use drone inspection technology for monitoring, inspection, and maintenance, including.
- Oil and gas: pipeline leak detection, industrial storage tanks
- Industrial: ship and aircraft manufacturing
- Energy: wind turbine blades, power transmission lines, topside marine infrastructure
- Construction: inspections of cranes, towers, bridges, roads, and railroads
In recent years, drone technology has advanced by leaps and bounds, increasing its autonomy, agility, and resistance, making it possible to use it for a myriad of tasks. Drones record accurate data in real-time and transmit it live to technical teams, allowing any infrastructure to be analyzed in the field.
Insurance drone inspections
Drones for insurance inspections are not only making the job faster and easier, helping insurers improve claims adjudication and claims processing and reduce operational costs.
Here are the main ways drones are used for insurance inspections:
- Roof inspection. Roof damage is one of the most difficult types of damage to inspecting. Climbing on the roof is only half the battle - then you must stay on the roof and inspect it thoroughly while keeping an eye on your safety. With drones, you can skip the ladders and handheld cameras. Simply fly the drone remotely to take detailed photos and video, and you can easily inspect roof damage.
- Home inspection. Today, many home inspection services have drones. Drones can reach hard-to-reach places, such as steep roofs and chimney tops, to help you spot potential cracks, wear and tear, and other damage that may not be easily visible to the naked eye.
- Property insurance inspections. Drones make inspecting large commercial properties fast and easy. They help adjusters and underwriters get information faster, reducing claim processing time from days to hours. This will greatly increase customer satisfaction. In addition, drones provide detailed, consistent, and high-resolution images that improve the quality of the claims adjudication process.
- Natural disaster inspections. When disasters like wildfires or earthquakes occur, insurers are trusted to assess damage to properly pay for damaged homes and businesses. Drones help insurers get more accurate payouts and allow insurers to stay in a safe area during inspections.
Power generation drone inspections
Power companies consist of many different buildings, equipment, and pipelines that require regular inspections to function properly.
Here are the main ways drones are used for power generation management:
- Boilers and storage tanks. Industrial drone inspections of boilers, fuel storage tanks, and confined spaces in power plants, refineries, and other industrial plants are becoming commonplace. Drones are equipped with powerful LED lights that ensure good image quality with true, natural colors, allowing you to quickly get details of specific sections.
- Building and roof inspections. Still, images and video recordings taken by drones are useful in inspecting buildings, roofs, and gutters, helping inspectors locate hazards quickly. To detect heat-related faults or defect inspections, you can also attach a thermal imaging camera to the drone, which can quickly identify potential leaks.
- Leak inspection of heating pipes. A drone with a thermal camera can locate areas in a pipeline that may be malfunctioning and causing leaks, so the homeowner can make repairs and in turn, can avoid energy loss.
By flying around objects and using their cameras (and additional sensors), drones can capture data faster and more accurately than a human, and take photos or notes of a higher quality than a human. With no need for scaffolding, cranes, or rope access, you can save significant costs and work preparation time.
Mining drone inspections
The use of drones in mining is becoming more and more common as drones are becoming essential tools within the quarry and open pit business.
Drones allow visual monitoring of work being done in a mineral deposit. Specifically, drones can be used to monitor open-pit mines, stockpiles, tailings dams, and pipelines - as well as to assist with safety and emergency response tasks.
They can be used to estimate material quantities, understand current stockpiles, and detect elevations and landslide-prone areas that may make work difficult. They can also be used to monitor equipment such as crushers and conveyors, and survey job sites during construction.
The biggest benefit of using drones to inspect mines is the assurance of worker safety. Mines are often located in challenging environments with extreme temperatures and weather conditions. Drones are able to collect visual data remotely to ensure the safety of mining personnel.
Drones make mine inspections easier and more frequent, which also leads to safer conditions and minimization of risk. In addition, the timely and accurate information obtained by drones lets companies know exactly how much inventory is available, how many trucks are entering or leaving, and much more.
Finally, drones assist mining operators in detecting remaining ore and other areas where finding remnants can save mining companies money.
Oil and gas drone inspections
Maintenance and monitoring activities in the oil and gas industry must be performed regularly to avoid spills, production interruptions, and unplanned shutdowns. UAV inspections are an attractive addition to traditional facility management methods.
Here are the main ways drones are used in the oil and gas industries:
- Flare stack inspection. Drones can obtain detailed images of flare stack heads, eliminating the risk to personnel and allowing for uninterrupted production time. Avoiding production downtime can save you over $4 million. Drones can capture images in a very short period of time, making repairs and maintenance less expensive and time-consuming.
- Pipeline inspections. Oil and gas drones have become the most cost-effective type of platform for inspecting thousands of miles of oil and gas pipelines around the world. Using thermal imaging technology, temperature differences between fluids and the ground can be easily detected and oil and gas leaks can be found.
- Offshore oil rig inspections. Working offshore complicates the inspection of oil rigs and exposes workers to greater risk. Drones can send real-time information to operators on the platform while flying within a few meters of the offshore platform. High-definition videos and stills can be provided from all angles - essential information that can be used to assess and plan ahead for the work required.
- Tailings pond inspection. Using drones for this application makes it possible to gather information in hazardous environments, and extreme weather conditions should no longer be a barrier to conducting such inspections.
- Oil spill and oil spill detection. Drones are perfectly suited to avoid the huge damage that can be caused by oil spills. By using the right sensors, drones can be used to measure and quantify oil spills, with the ability to assess their location, how fast they are moving through the water, and the specific area it has reached. This real-time information can determine where to dispatch response vessels and recover the time previously spent on the damage detection process.
- Monitor gas emissions. The highly sensitive optical sensors provided by drones can help monitor gas emissions at critical sites and in large areas that are difficult to cover. They make drone surveillance, surveying, identifying, and repairing leaks a manageable task. With nearly half a million fracked gas wells in the United States, this task is essential. Drones help reduce the cost of performing such inspections and enable safe 3-D mapping of drilling sites, natural gas pipelines, landfills, and other municipal operations.
Public safety drone inspections
The use of drones in public safety has grown rapidly in recent years. Increasingly, governments are using drones to protect the public from harmful and unanticipated hazards. Some of the inspection scenarios in which drones are used for public safety are live, ongoing activities such as locating missing persons during search and rescue operations, capturing aerial intelligence during an active shooter scenario, or understanding the spread of a wildfire in real-time.
Here are the main ways drones are used for public safety:
- Search and rescue. In search and rescue operations, time is of the essence. Drones can quickly cover large areas and can use thermal imaging technology for nighttime searches.
- Traffic collision reconstruction. In traffic management, the combination of drones and 3D mapping software allows investigators to quickly and efficiently create 3D renderings of actual crash scenes.
- Active shooter investigations. Drones allow officers to examine armed and dangerous people from a safe distance. This provides officers with real-time, actionable intelligence to assess threats while developing strategies for their approach.
- Crime scene analysis. Investigators can use drones to take videos and photos to see the actual crime scene accurately.
- Crowd monitoring. Law enforcement officers can use a police drone to conduct investigations from a distance, keeping them safe from detection while monitoring an area for extended periods of time.
- Hazardous material spill. Drones can be used to assess hazmat spills, determine the perimeter of a spill, and help determine safe entry and exit points for hazmat teams.
What is the purpose of aerial inspection？
Aerial inspection means inspecting crops, forests, livestock or wildlife, patrolling pipelines or power lines, etc. from an aircraft or drone. The images captured by the aircraft can be used to identify any faults or potential problems.
How long does a drone inspection take?
Once the inspection begins, the drone takes only 10 to 30 minutes to complete and relay the results to a central location. The exact time depends on the performance of the drone and the size of the area that needs to be inspected.
How much does a drone inspection service cost?
Commercial drone inspection companies are available at rates of $100-$500 per hour, depending on the industry, with the most common rate being around $150 per hour.
Can I use a drone to inspect my roof?
Yes, you can. Drone roof inspections are becoming very popular. First, drone inspections are more efficient and cheaper than manual inspections. Second, compared to traditional methods, they eliminate most of the risks such as falls, roof collapses under the inspector's feet, and much more.
How to do a drone roof inspection?
First, create a flight plan on the software application based on the perimeter of the roof and the address of the building.
Secondly, once the flight plan is prepared, you can use the mobile app or controller to launch and navigate the drone.
Thirdly, once the drone takes off, it will automatically follow the flight path created and capture images.
Finally, once you have collected the data, you need to use a data inspection platform to filter the images and annotate your findings. You can even run your data through artificial intelligence-based defect detection software to speed up the analysis process.
How much does a drone roof inspection cost?
The price ranges from $120 to $320 per hour of flight time. It can be lower or higher than that range depending on the complexity and size of the roof.
Can you use a drone for home inspections?
Yes, you can but you need a Remote Pilot Certificate. According to the drone laws for home inspectors, if you want to use a drone outdoors for a commercial purpose, whether you make a movie or inspect your property's roof, you need to get a Remote Pilot Certificate (RPC), register your drone, and follow certain requirements when operating the drone.
Why do home inspectors use drones?
Here are three key benefits that drones offer for home inspections.
- Safety. Drones can replace the need for inspectors to climb up and walk across roofs, which ensures that workers are not injured by falls.
- Accessibility. Some roofs are dangerous for inspectors to walk on because they are too high, too steep, too wet, or made of materials such as clay tiles. Home inspectors have drones fly onto the roof and collect visual data about the condition of the roof without having to climb the building and walk across it themselves.
- Efficiency. A drone can collect visual data on an entire roof in just a few hours, more than ten times faster than traditional methods. In addition, it provides inspectors with a quick review of the entire structure, highlighting potential problem areas that may need more attention or maybe a safety risk.