Drones Aim to Prevent Infrastructure Disasters


After utilizing its technology to inspect dams for BC Hydro, founders of Niricson, a Victoria, British Columbia-based technology company, think their drones will soon be used for maintaining infrastructure across Canada, the United States and around the globe.

“We started with dams but the next thing we’re doing is going into bridges and tunnels, even nuclear power plants, water tanks, all types of concrete structures, and then slowly going to steel and timber structures as well,” says Harsh Rathod, co-founder of the company. “We can apply it to any type of asset.”

According to the Journal of Commerce, the drone technology uses visual, acoustical and infrared heat sensing to inspect what’s underneath an infrastructure’s concrete surface. The combination of technology can reportedly detect cracks, voids or other issues by flying around the structure and collecting information using its onboard acoustic recorder, optical camera and infrared camera.

Once the data is collected, it is then immediately analyzed using Niricson’s software—developed three years ago by Rathod and his PhD supervisor Rishs Gupta—which can further indicate the width, length, depth and overall significance of the defects and, if necessary, can start taking actions to repair them.

“We collect thermal data and acoustical data,” explains Rathod. “It’s not just the surface level but also sub-surface. The thermal data allows us to go a little bit deeper, so we’re looking at about five millimeters up to 50 millimeters from the surface and acoustic allows us to go 200 millimeters from the surface. That’s just the start. Our goal is to go hopefully up to 30 inches so that would be way deeper.

“The drone goes out there and actually taps the concrete surface and collects the sound waves from the surface and basically the sound waves penetrate deeper and provide the characteristic of the material.”

However, beyond inspections, the system can also be used to track damage over time so civil engineers can plan preventive maintenance.

Since launching the company with Aki Tomita, Rathod reports that the company has 11 people on the team and recently completed funding efforts, which raised $800,000 to continue developing drone technology to open new markets.

Niricson adds that besides working with BC Hydro, it has since signed contracts with other utility companies in the U.S. and Canada and is also trying to arrange partnerships with engineering consulting firms.

Recent Drone Milestones

Earlier this month, the Federal Aviation Administration announced the launch of its BEYOND program, focusing on the partnerships and progress it made under its three-year Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program, which concluded at the end of October.

BEYOND will also continue to address remaining challenges currently keeping unmanned aircraft systems from being fully integrated into the national airspace system.

The remaining challenges faced in incorporating UAS into the airspace system include:

  • Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations that are repeatable, scalable and economically viable with specific emphasis on infrastructure inspection, public operations and small package delivery;
  • Leveraging industry operations to better analyze and quantify the societal and economic benefits of UAS operations; and
  • Focusing on community engagement efforts to collect, analyze and address community concerns.

Additionally, the new program plans to focus on operating under established rules rather than waivers, collecting data to develop performance-based standards, collecting and addressing community feedback and understanding the societal and community benefits, and to streamline the approval processes for UAS integration.

In January 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced that they had granted inspectors the authorized use of drones for workplace inspections. However, it was unclear whether OSHA would consider permission from the general contractor sufficient or if consent will be necessary from all on-site contractors.

A few months later in August, the FAA issued a Certificate of Waiver to Greenly, Colorado-based general contracting company Hensel Phelps for the certified use of parachute-equipped drones on populated construction sites.

By March, Florida Power & Light Co. (Juno Beach, Florida) announced that it would be adopting drone technologies at its facility.

Specifically, two 22-pound drones that the company refers to as "drone in a box" technology which can be easily deployed up to two miles away from their landing stations just outside of FLP’s Next Generation Clean Energy Center, outside Gate 8.

Moving forward, FLP intends to put a drone-in-a-box at every substation, transmission yard, plant and solar facility. Already, there are plans in the works to incorporate the technology at locations in south Miami, one in St. Lucie and one in Indian River counties.

That same month, AkzoNobel recently released an update on its partnership with Apellix, a Jacksonville, Florida, start-up that won the 2019 Paint the Future challenge. At the time, the duo is was collaborating on a computer-controlled spray-painting drone.


Tagged categories: drone; Drones; Infrastructure; Inspection; Inspection equipment; NA; North America; Quality Control; Research and development; Technology

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