AmeyVTOL has demonstrated the first drone inspection of UK infrastructure to go beyond visual line of sight (BVLoS).
AmeyVTOL is a joint venture between Amey and aerial robotics specialist VTOL Technologies. AmeyVTOL’s drone, known as The Flying Wing, has a flight range of up to 100 km, and sensors that enable it to capture and send data in real time.
During the demonstration, The Flying Wing autonomously surveyed an area out of the sight of the pilot up to 2km away. Previous to this, drone inspections were limited to flight within visual line of sight (WVLoS) and, as such, could not go further than 500 metres from the pilot.
According to Amey, the success of the BVLoS trial opens up the use of drones for inspections of long linear infrastructure such as roads, railways and overhead power lines. Not only does BVLoS save time and massively reduce inspection and survey costs, it also increases the quality, volume, and repeatability of data – enabling better asset management decisions and more efficient maintenance, the company says.
It also enables inspections and surveys to be undertaken without people needing to work alongside a live railway, removing ‘boots from ballast’.
Alex Gilbert, managing director of Amey Consulting, said: “We are delighted to have successfully trialled a UK first for asset management. Through our collaboration with SME VTOL Technologies we have developed a genuine innovation that could transform inspections and surveys for asset owners in both the public and private sector. Being able to go beyond visual line of sight will not just provide safer, more effective inspections but it will empower asset managers with increasingly reliable data, resulting in informed, intelligent decision making.”
The demonstration project was part of a government-sponsored Rail First of a Kind (FOAK) programme promoted by Innovate UK through the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI). SBRI is designed to bring together government challenges and ideas from businesses to create innovative solutions and was instrumental in enabling the demonstration of BVLoS operations.
AmeyVTOL will now be offering this survey capability to other infrastructure owners and operators.