The use of UAV for aerial inspection on the Rail Network is highly advantageous as it negates the need for dangerous live track access (boots on ballast) as the UAV is controlled from outside the railway boundary, thereby removing people from risk. In addition, in most cases as long as the necessary SSOW documentation is completed, the railway line does not need to be closed, or alternatives like direct communication with the signaler or temporary blocks can be added for the short flight times.
Typical uses for UAVs on rail survey projects, are to provide geo-referenced orthophotos, digital elevation models (topographic data), aerial oblique and panoramic imagery to very dense highly accurate survey grade Cloud point. Currently, The Bionic Eye is the only operator who has permissions to fly larger sub 20Kg class UAS fitted with our highly accurate LiDAR scanner. This instrument is able to capture a cloud point to an accuracy of sub 5mm simply by flying along the asset without occlusions.
Advantages of UAV surveys
UAVs provide numerous benefits to the Railway Industry, ranging from greater safety, richer data, faster data delivery and ultimately more cost effectiveness.
Traditional inspections were carried out during line closures which were late at night, and for bridges, typically meant abseiling down to inspect the arches - meaning a slow process. Now with UAVs this can be carried out during the day when the line is "live", and upon review of the material only areas that are suspect will be inspected further.
From the standard high definition photography to interactive panoramic scenes all the way through to dense could point, these are channelled to port straight into Network Rail's ORBIS project, empowering decision-making.
Increased speed of delivery
From rapid data acquisition by flying UAVs around the assets, to uploading to dedicated portals for remote team collaborative analysis, all speed up the delivery of information.
It is not always cost-effective to use full-size aircraft unless larger sections of track are being inspected. UAVs can be mobilised very rapidly and can survey sites at a fraction of the cost of the full-size alternative if planned well.
With access being outside the live track area, costly track possessions are negated for the operation and subcontractor.
By the sheer fact that the work does not have to have access to the live track environment - or if they still do, the risk is greatly reduced - therefore safety has been increased.
No more boots on ballast - we fly safely around the site...