Only 14% of companies performing visual inspections use drones. But do they want to?

Only 14% of companies performing visual inspections use drones — but 95% of companies want to be using them. That’s at least according to survey data commissioned by drone platform provider Percepto and conducted by independent global research firm Global Surveyz Research.

When asked about their level of drone usage, a whopping 81% of folks working in visual inspection industries said they are not currently using drones for visual inspections but are planning to start using them soon.

The survey, conducted online in the fourth quarter of 2022, interviewed 200 senior-level respondents from processing and distribution facilities, including power generation companies, chemical plants (e.g., fertilizers) and refineries to find out how they think about and use drones.

These folks need to inspect critical infrastructure like torch towers, processing units, chimneys, rooftops, substations and generators. Inspections can increase site safety and productivity, make operations more reliable and, yes, it’s often simply due to government regulations.

Currently, a total of 14% of companies already use drones for visual inspections. Of those that do already use drones for visual inspections, about 43% have their own in-house program and operators (a figure that amounts to 6% of visual inspection companies overall. Meanwhile, 57% use drones, but they outsource the drone work to other companies (that’s 8% of all visual inspection companies).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, bigger companies are more likely to have their own in-house drone teams. Of the 6% of respondents with an in-house drone program, the majority also have more than 5,000 employees overall.

“This reinforces the notion that larger companies most likely have more budget and resources to invest in an in-house drone program,” according to an analysis from Percepto.

Looking at the 8% who outsource most of their drone activity by region, the Asia Pacific region is the biggest outsourcer (14%), followed by the EU (10%) and North America (4%).

So if everyone wants to use drones — yet isn’t actually using them at the moment — what’s holding them back? Money, mostly.

Percepto asked survey respondents what their main challenge was in being able to conduct more visual inspections. The majority of respondents (74%) indicated that their main challenge was related to a lack of budget and/or resources.

“This suggests that their current visual inspection technology and/or processes aren’t optimal or cost-effective,” according to Percepto. “This is something they could potentially solve through automation, as it would eliminate the need for manual, labor-intensive inspections, improve the frequency and reliability of the visual data collected, and provide insights that could improve the reliability and productivity of their sites.”

But as drone technology improves and gets in the hands of more people, that could change. And among that technology could include the very company that commissioned the survey, Percepto. Percepto is an autonomous inspection and monitoring solution provider, that focuses on how industrial sites monitor and inspect their critical infrastructure and assets. The Israel-based company is most famous for its Percepto Air drone-in-a-box portfolio (basically a fancy word for a drone dock) and was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Best Inventions of 2021.

“Drones, robotics and AI allow for automated visual infrastructure inspections at a pace, scale and accuracy level that humans alone cannot deliver using traditional visual inspection methods, particularly for hazardous, hard-to-reach assets,” said Percepto Co-founder and CEO Dor Abuhasira in a prepared statement. “The heavy reliance on labor intensive, manual methods suggests a lack of awareness of how AI can be utilized to ensure the highest levels of safety, productivity, asset reliability and adherence to regulations, representing a vast untapped technological resource.”

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