If you think of commercial applications of unmanned aerial vehicles, you probably think of well publicized efforts to have drones deliver packages to your house. Just last month, an Amazon Prime drone delivered sunscreen at Amazon’s MARS 2017 conference in sunny Palm Springs.
Package-delivery drones remain gimmicky, yet commercial drones represent a significant market segment in applications ranging from agriculture to media and entertainment. Grand View Research put the commercial drone market at $552 million in 2014 and forecasts a 16.9% CAGR through 2022.
One promising application area is pipeline inspection, according to Mary (Missy) Cummings, delivering a keynote address at IPC Apex Expo in February. Drones are more efficient than road vehicles or manned aircraft at looking for defects or vandalism—pipelines, she said, are frequently shot at. (You may ask, why shoot at a pipeline? For too many people, she said, the question is, why not?)
Today, a startup called SkyX, based in the greater Toronto area, is planning to secure funding to provide UAV service to the oil and gas industry. Founded by Didi Horn, a former captain in the Israeli Air Force and a drone pilot, the company has developed drones that can travel at 150 km/h for 70 minutes and can detect leaks, vandalism, and vegetation encroachment—providing data and video in real time. The drones needn’t return to their home bases to recharge; they can recharge at what the company calls xStations with weather-shielded domes.
SkyX cites statistics showing that companies spend $37 billion per year inspecting 10,000,000 km of oil and gas pipelines worldwide. Horn said, “We have built not only a fantastic, game-changing product for the oil and gas industry, but have also built a fantastic team of experts ready to get it out there. The market is, obviously, of huge global importance. We know that our technology can significantly cut costs and improve efficiency—helping the sector as a whole, along with each and every customer. Our unique solution, which combines both VTOL flight and autonomous remote charging, puts us well ahead of the competition. As a result, we are en route for significant expansion, offering an unprecedented opportunity for a strategic investment partner to help us conquer and secure significant market share in an ever-growing industry.”
The company plans to offer service-leasing model that frees customers from maintenance responsibilities.