1 day to 1 hour for cell tower inspection in Cameroon
SkyVue Solutions showed the amazing results of inspecting cell towers using a drone with Pix4Dscan and Pix4Dinspect when they trialled the inspection of a cell phone tower for IHS Towers in Douala, Cameroon. The inspection time was hugely reduced and the cost decreased by one third, with the final report enhanced by the improved accuracy. All of this was possible due to using Pix4D software and a drone for the tower inspection.
Based in Cameroon and the USA, SkyVue uses drones to offer technical services to a variety of industries, including telecommunications, construction and insurance. Their aim for the IHS Towers project was to trial an improved inspection process through performing a standard cell tower inspection using drones and generating an intelligent Digital Twin of the tower in 3D. If successful, this trial would mean the tower could be virtually available for IHS Towers teams to measure, plan new installations or explain engineering work.
The risks of cell tower inspections
IHS Towers have 2,217 communications towers across Cameroon, with the IHS Cameroon team monitoring them. IHS Cameroon need to regularly check their towers to evaluate antenna positions, faults or broken equipment. However, telecommunications towers can be 300 meters high. To visually inspect them requires a qualified specialist to climb to the top of the structure, take photos and/or make visual observations which are compiled in a report outlining the state of the cell phone tower.
The problem with this method is that it is very dangerous for the person climbing the tower, who risks serious injury if they fall. It is also time consuming, expensive and can produce low-quality or incomplete data. With the scale of IHS Cameroon’s operations, they sometimes rely on hand drawn sketches of towers for antenna additions, engineering or maintenance planning work. This process does evade safety risks for a person who would have to climb, however, it is not particularly fast or any less expensive. But this is the old way.
|Scan Team||SkyVue Solutions & IHS Towers|
|Software||PIX4Dscan and PIX4Dinspect|
|Hardware||DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 & iPad|
|Processing time||2 hours|
|Length of Inspection||1 hour|
The reality of using drones for cell tower inspections
Using PIX4Dscan and PIX4Dinspect, SkyVue managed to complete a single inspection without having to send any staff up the tower, nor did they need to rent expensive equipment. Taking 1 hour instead of a whole day for the inspection process, SkyVue took advantage of the pre-planned flight mission custom built for cell phone tower inspection on PIX4Dscan.
Previously, SkyVue followed four steps for an inspection: work planning/authorization, image capture, image processing and reporting. Now, with PIX4Dscan, the image capture is automated by the Cell Tower flight plan within the iOS app, cutting the time demands of both work planning and taking high resolution photos. PIX4Dinspect then rewrites how image processing works. Old processing software that SkyVue used required significant manual inputting, which increased the chances of errors within the data. This new workflow for cell tower inspection is more time efficient, requiring only 20 minutes of flight time and means multiple towers can be inspected in a day. Being cloud-based, PIX4Dinspect uses automatic machine learning algorithms to measure antennas to help identify them in combination with using the pictures taken in an underneath orbit, which show the coaxial port entries underneath the antennas. As a result, the processing is faster, automated and more accurate than previous methods, which means drones can bring huge improvements to the inspection industry. The SkyVue team could then add their own notes to different elements of the tower directly from their browser.
"The accurate 3D model of the tower generated was exactly what SkyVue wanted: an intelligent Digital Twin, which displays automatically the height of the antenna and its angles (azimuth, downtilt and plumb). The entire project was seamless - barring a slight delay as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic - and SkyVue published their findings in a detailed PDF report, ideal for easily sharing with IHS Cameroon. For SkyVue, this revolutionized their inspection experience.
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Saving time and money with cell tower inspection software
By working with a dedicated software solution for their task, SkyVue Solutions completed their inspection in a fraction of the time and cut costs by a third. The combined capturing and processing of PIX4Dscan and PIX4Dinspect are, in the words of SkyVue Solutions, “a game changer for the inspection world because they are custom designed to address an industry specific pain point.”
"This project was special to us because it made people safer. By performing tower inspections with drones, we cut completely the need for humans to climb on towers for inspections" Raoul Fossi, CEO of SkyVue Solutions
For the SkyVue team, however, the priority was that they overcame the risk factors which pose a major challenge to inspection of cell towers: “by performing tower inspections with drones, we cut completely the need for humans to climb on towers for inspections and subsequently the risk for human injury and death.”
- Auto generated inspection reports simplify identify and tag faults
- Automatic antenna detection and their characteristics assessed for inventory
- Pre-planned Cell Tower flight mission ready in the app
- Helps generate comprehensive inspection reports
SkyVue weren’t the only ones impressed by this perfect trial. IHS Cameroon are now in talks to roll this system out nationwide in a major step for pioneering technological techniques in the country. This is hugely important to Pix4D as it follows the company’s aim to democratize 3D drone software, so it can be used around the world where it wasn’t possible before.
Images courtesy of SkyVue Solutions, and the full project report is available as a pdf: SkyVue Solutions Photogrammetry PIX4Dinspect