Our world is aging. By recent estimates, over 40% of bridges in the U.S. alone are over 50 years old, with 8% of them being classified as "structurally deficient." As cities burgeon and skyscrapers breach new heights, this ticking clock of decaying infrastructure—valued at trillions worldwide—demands urgent attention and frequent inspection.
Historically, we've leaned on human efforts, often sending workers into the fray with safety harnesses and hard hats. This not only comes with a substantial financial toll but also endangers human lives. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, inspection and maintenance jobs in perilous heights have consistently ranked among the most hazardous professions. Yet, in the vast skyline of challenges, the glint of a new solution emerges: aerial robotics.
In the early days, drones—a $127 billion industry according to PwC—made their mark with simple cameras. As technology progressed, live video feeds streamed invaluable real-time insights. Then came the industrial-grade drones, with ruggedized hardware and fine-tuned sensors.
However, today's innovation stretches beyond mere observation.
We now witness the dawn of flying robots, not just equipped to see, but to touch and interact. These robots, armed with cutting-edge hardware, venture where humans often can't: soaring altitudes and precarious angles. Non-destructive testing (NDT) techniques, like assessing wall integrity or coating thickness, which were once arduous tasks, can now be completed efficiently from any angle, on any height.
Conventional methods like scaffolding or cherry pickers often fall short, either being too time-intensive or logistically challenged. But flying robots promise efficiency. The possibility of inspecting an entire storage tank in just 1-2 hours? It's now an evolving reality.
Leading this charge are companies like Voliro and Skygauge. Their pioneering solutions stand at the crossroads of aviation, robotics, and maintenance. Voliro, who’s flying robotics platform is being used to inspect critical energy infrastructure in both North America and Europe, is revolutionizing how energy companies are approaching inspections. Storage tank inspection for instance can now be completed without the need for scaffolding, which for one customer saved over 615m3 of scaffolding and over 400 working hours. Skyguage boasts similar efficiencies, completing inspections of oil refinery tanks 80% faster than a rope access team. Given the rapid pace, the mobile robotics market is set to grow from $14.3 billion in 2019 to over $54 billion by 2024, as per MarketsandMarkets research.
The significance of this evolution extends beyond mere maintenance. As we transition into this era, aerial robotics stands as a symbol of limitless human innovation. By addressing the challenge of aging infrastructure, they don't just ensure safety but epitomize progress.
In the vast world of technological advancements, flying robots are more than just mechanical marvels. They are our answer to the pressing demands of today and the architects of a safer, more efficient tomorrow. As they hover above, scanning and repairing, they echo a resounding promise: our legacy of infrastructure will not just endure but will thrive.