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Drones, Big Data Assist Tower Management — AGL Magazine

October 14, 2015 — The influx of industrial drones has the potential to revolutionize the inspections of the nearly 300,000 cell towers across the country.

A new entrant in this field is Sentera, an unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) designer and manufacturer that brings with it an expertise in acquisition and management of image-based data.

Sentera initially worked with military systems. Unmanned aircraft produce a tremendous amount of data through photography, which is only useful if the pictures can be organized. The company also does a lot of work in managing image data in agriculture, where aerial images help diagnose problems with crops, and other industries, like bridges, where infrastructure regularly needs to be inspected.

The tower industry has many of the same issues. Once a drone has flown around a tower taking some 200 to 300 pictures of the mobile site facility, the resulting images are difficult to organized. Pictures need to be tagged based on where they were taken and the subject and then they need to be sharable with anyone from that enterprise.

At the beginning of this month Sentera launched the OnTop Platform, which comprises a mobile app and desktop client that provide the ability to analyze image data and a record of the location, date, time, and asset type. Photos are then presented in a searchable map view. Sentera began developing the product after it was approached by a tower company that had an abundance of images of its towers but no way to organize them and fully utilize them.

More products are on the way, which automate the procedures for performing site inspections and the process of generating a close-out package for work done for a carrier.

“We worked with them to create a mobile application that guides a technician through the process of documenting the work that has been done on a tower, which is retrievable and can flow into the database of the tower owner,” said Eric Taipale, Sentera co-founder and CEO.

Tower equipment modification verification is in beta-testing, and the plan is to jointly release that product with the tower company in the first quarter of next year as a general purpose tool so a third-party tower inspector can use it to generate closeouts that are compliant with documentation standards.

Nate Forms Committee on Drones

In other drone news, the National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) has formally established the Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) committee, which will monitor the trends and regulatory environment associated with UAS technologies. Additionally, it will make recommendations to NATE members on best practices concerning UAS integration. NATE has already been participating in the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) meetings on Unmanned Aerial Systems that have been held in Washington, D.C. and the newly formed committee will continue this dialogue.

The NATE Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Committee consists of the following members:

  • Greg Emerick (Sentera; Licensed Pilot)
  • Jim Goldwater (Bob Lawrence & Associates)
  • John Paul Jones (Tower & Turbine Technologies LLC; Licensed Pilot)
  • Phil Larsen (HAZON Solutions LLC; UAV Pilot and Student Pilot)
  • Jimmy Miller (MillerCo, Inc.; Licensed Pilot)
  • Todd Schlekeway (NATE)

“I believe that implementing the use of drones and remote sensors in tower operations will ultimately provide benefits to NATE members and the industry by improving safety and operational efficiencies,” said Greg Emerick from Sentera.

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