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An Unexpected UAS Sighting

The late comedian Rodney Dangerfield said that he once went to a fight and a hockey game broke out. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I had somewhat the same feeling while walking through an industrial trade show this week.
By Patrick C. Miller | July 30, 2015

The late comedian Rodney Dangerfield said that he once went to a fight and a hockey game broke out. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I had somewhat the same feeling while walking through the exhibit hall at the Bakken Conference and Expo this week.

Among all the products and services being displayed and demonstrated for the oil and gas industry operating in western North Dakota were the black and yellow unmanned aerial system (UAS) platforms—the eBee and the eXom—manufactured by SenseFly.

Adam Zylka, a technical support engineer with SenseFly, was on hand at the booth of RDO Integrated Controls with the company’s representatives, Todd Madeen and Mike Schmaltz. The size of the elaborate display—complete with an impressive video on SenseFly’s capabilities—and the number of people available to discuss SeneFly’s products sent the message that RDOIC is serious about marketing UAS to serve the oil and gas industry in the nation’s second largest oil producing state.

Madeen told me that the industry is seriously looking at UAS for surveying and conducting inspections of pipelines and other infrastructure. A business that buys a system will receive training from RDOIC and assistance from SenseFly to obtain a Section 333 exemption from the FAA.

Schmaltz said RDOIC already has customers in the aggregate industry—businesses that provide sand, gravel, clay and dirt for construction projects—using SeneFly UAS to save time and money. This industry has discovered that using UAS to measure the volumes of materials is faster, less expensive and more accurate.

“One customer had a gravel pile so large that it took him and three other guys a whole day to measure it,” he said. “We flew 20 acres, which included that pile, in 12 minutes. We were more accurate than what they were because we were getting every little washout on the pile and everything. They can’t get all that with just a regular GPS unit. That pretty much sells the machine right there.”

While the commercial exemptions issued by the FAA have helped open up the UAS market, Madeen expects the FAA’s approval of its proposed small UAS rule to have an even greater impact.

“Some of the engineering outfits are nervous about the exemptions, but I think they will break through once the rules are final,” Madeen said. “Some of the bigger engineering companies will get into it rather than outsource it.”

I suspect that it won’t be long before seeing UAS on display at industrial trade shows will be more commonplace than fights at hockey games.