The word drone might have a bad connotation for many, not only because of their use in the military but also because of all the bad reports from the media regarding drones crashing in wrong places, like at the US open, or the one used to smuggle drugs into an Ohio prison.
But like it always is with technology, drones have their positive applications too. In the energy sector commercial use of drones is right on the corner. The biggest oil and gas companies are using these electric dragonflies to take care of tasks that otherwise would be more expensive, dangerous and time consuming to manage.
The inspection and monitoring of pipelines, offshore rigs, storage tanks, flare stacks and infrastructure alike normally involve manned helicopters or even workers doing rappelling or dangling from wires in complicated weather conditions. Sky Futures is a company that provides an alternative for that, it operates high frequency drones that are equipped with high-definition video cameras with thermal visualization. "The inspection data we can collect in five days takes rope-access technicians about eight weeks," according to Chris Blackford co-founder and chief operations officer at Sky Futures.
With the current fall in oil price and energy companies trying to cut cost by minimizing investment budgets, reducing personnel and trying to spend more on information technology and servicing contractors, it is prime time for services like the ones provided by Sky Futures. Companies like BP, BG Group and Royal Dutch Shell are among their clients already.
Having the approval from federal regulators, Sky Futures plans to expand its market to Asia and the US, and since the Gulf of Mexico allocates a third of the world's 10,000 rigs it's the right place to do so.
More and more companies are getting approval from the US federal government to operate drones commercially, like PrecisionHawk which monitors crops and aids icebreakers navigate through thick ice, or Cyberhawk Innovations of Scotland whose services include inspection of wind turbines, communications towers and railway lines, even though the company is headquartered in the UK it works with companies like Exxon Mobile and Chevron.
Analysts say that the potential use of drones for human inspection and data collection is vast and for oil and gas companies it will become a very important and crucial asset to acquire.