Spotlight on DeltaScan

While industry players are having a hard time haggling with aviation authorities safely integrate drone operations into urban skylines, the situation is quite different when your company flies its drones mostly underground.

That’s exactly what Johannesburg-based inspection and digitisation company, DeltaScan does.

Oh, they do work with various licenced drone operators alright; those that went through the hard yards with the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) inspection team until the latter were satisfied enough to award them an ROC, which they have put to good use.

We work with licenced drone operators, who we bring to our sites for data collection,” says DeltaScan Managing Director, Darryl Epstein. “Afterwards, the specialist processing and analysis of the data is our baby.”

Epstein is particularly proud of the work they did at the University of Cape Town, in the aftermath of the fire that destroyed a library, among other assets.

“We did the full fire assessment at the University of Cape Town, which was an epic project for us,” Epstein said. “We digitised the full campus and created digital twins on each damaged building.

“Combining drone data, high resolution LiDAR, Matterport and thermal cameras, we built exact digital replicas of the affected structures for analysis and restoration.”

Founded in 2018, DeltaScan has been assisting asset owners, engineering companies, industrial sites, petrochemical and mines, throughout the world with technology-driven workflows using digital tools in combination with Artificial Intelligence and Precision Analytics. Their goal is to empower engineers with better tools to speed up workflows and get more value out of their operations.

At the UCT, the drones had to get special permission to fly and conduct these on-site inspections.

Yes. Back to the special permissions again.

Because the drones were operating above ground, and effectively in airspace that belongs to the aviation authority, they had to seek permission first before deploying their inspection drones into the air.

And coordination with the regulator is indeed a good thing, especially in the area where DroneScan intended to operate in, which also had fire-fighting helicopters on the lookout for smouldering remnants in the area. Airspace safety would be of utmost importance.

The experience is quite different though, when sending a drone underground.

There are no planes to avoid in underground tunnels and mine shafts, and definitely no public roads and people to detect and steer clear of; something which has been the biggest challenge to the expedition of unmanned aircraft integration into urban airspaces all over the world.

DeltaScan made the digital models after the fire at UCT

Underground there is none of the litany of airspace requirements that have to be met before a drone has to be unleashed; actually, underground space does not fall under the jurisdiction of the aviation regulator at all.

(At which point we were sorely tempted to include one of the creepy lines from Patchface (Game of Thrones book fans will relate) about what happens under the sea – like, Under the sea, it’s the fish that eat people/I know, I know/Oh, oh, oh).

But then the Elios drone does not do underwater flights. The Elios flies underground, and without the help of GPS too.

Manufactured by Swiss company Flyability, we extensively covered the capabilities of the Elios underground drone here. Just give it a good cage and lights, and the drone will be good to go and work in blind, claustrophobic places too dangerous for humans to venture into.

Like the underground stormwater drains and culvert infrastructure labyrinth under the city of Johannesburg, which the DeltaScan was charged with inspecting and mapping recently.

During our interview with him, Epstein did admit that he personally preferred to fly drones above ground; but then, nothing will beat the experience of flying in an underground tunnel.

“DeltaScan has been appointed to inspect, map and digitise the stormwater and culvert infrastructure under Johannesburg,” the company announced yesterday. “It’s not every day we get to experience the city from under the ground. Large tunnels forming networks like a spider web under our roads and houses; in some areas even large enough to fit cars through.

“What an experience!”

It is indeed an experience, given all the unknowns one might come across.

Besides monitoring the infrastructure underneath the city, the company has also flown drones into other confined spaces like silos, smoke stacks and mine shafts, both in South Africa and in other countries like Ghana, Botswana, Zambia; and even beyond the continent, in Europe and the Americas.

“Our passion for technology and innovation brought us together to rethink how we approach professional services and to challenge decades old practices. Years of research uncovered an (inspection) industry requiring more accurate information, faster turnaround times, higher levels of confidence in reporting, and quantification in turnkey solutions.

“Combining cutting edge drone and scanning technology together with 3D digitisation and engineering design principles, DeltaScan was created to address these needs and solve the industries’ greatest challenges.

“All of this at a fraction of the conventional cost.”


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