“When we first meet with the client, we
talk to them about what they want to achieve
out of the inspection,” says Bivins. “Once
we’ve defined the problem, the scope of the
project, and the schedule, we can customize
In some cases, Alaska Aerial just collects
the imagery and turns the data over to the
client for its own in-house analysis. They can
also provide a pre-analysis, looking for loose
bolts, cracks, or corrosion. They then upload
their information and annotations to cloud-
based software that is shared with the client.
“With advancements in drones, cameras,
and sensors, and the decrease in cost, some
companies are looking at establishing internal programs to assess their own infrastructure,” says Bivins. “We work in a consulting
role to help with planning and training.”
Depending on the job, Alaska Aerial has a
number of drones that they use in the field.
“We have specialized drones for different
types of acquisitions,” says Bivins. “We use
the same drone platform, but can switch out
sensors to include regular photography, thermal imaging, or even a zoom camera.
“Successful live flare inspections require
complementary sensors. Visible damage to
pilot lights can be viewed from traditional
cameras; however, thermal sensors allow us
to further detail the status of the flare.”
The company also has drones that utilize
LiDAR, the same technology used on planes.
LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) is a
land surveying method that works on the
principle of radar, but uses light from a laser
to create 3-D representations of a target.
As for what this new technology can’t do?
“It can’t swing a hammer or turn a wrench
yet,” laughs Bivins. “But for pre-inspections,
it’s really efficient.”
What Does the Future Hold?
Even though this technology is just getting
off the ground in Alaska, drone companies
are already looking forward to advancements
that are being made every day.
“It is a full-time job keeping up on the
technology; we’re constantly monitoring and
testing what’s out there, and we’re involved in
beta programs trying out new software,” says
Bivins. “As new products hit the market, we
look at it to see if it will benefit our clients or
enable us to deliver a better product.”
According to Bivins, one of the issues most
often discussed in the industry is the idea of
artificial intelligence or machine learning being incorporated into drone software.
“The UAS captures a drastic amount of new
data every time it flies; this data needs to be
utilized very efficiently so that it doesn’t create bottlenecks in the workflow,” he explains.
“We’re looking for actionable insight, which
is why companies are exploring artificial in-
telligence and machine learning—can you
teach software or a computer to identify what
an anomaly looks like, so that after a while it
will be able to identify anomalies by itself?
“Having the software flag new anomalies
instead of having a person go through the data
is a hot topic in the industry,” he adds. “While
some companies say that they can offer this, in
our experience working with AI focused com-
panies, we’re not there yet. You have to train
the software what to look for, and this is a long
process and requires a huge amount of data.
“I don’t think it’s far off; in a year, year-and-a-half, I believe we’ll see some really
useful applications, but until we reach the
amount of data necessary to train the software, I think some of these companies are
selling what they don’t really have.”
Collaboration within Companies
Even as space-age technology makes it easier to
monitor facilities, companies are also looking
at more down-to-earth ways to reach one of
their most important assets—their employees.
At Alyeska, for example, the company has
begun using crowdsourcing as a way to encourage innovation and collaboration among
“Late last year, as we continued to look at
how to improve field operations and back-of-
fice operations, we came up with the concept
of a cloud-based crowdsourcing tool that
would give us a way to gather and initially vet
ideas from our employees and our contrac-
tors,” explains Rosetti. “Who better to pro-
vide great ideas on how to make things work
better than the folks closest to the work?”
“What’s great about this crowdsourcing
platform is that it gets ideas out to where a
lot of people will see them,” says Rosetti.
“Though the tool is relatively new, it has al-
ready led to some process improvements that
make life better for all of us.”
While some of the larger or more technical
ideas need to be vetted through the engineer-
ing process, which requires more time, other
ideas have received a fast turnaround and
have already been implemented.
“One simple example of this is our previous travel policy, which did not allow employees to use services like Uber or Lyft,”
says Rosetti. “Once those technologies came
to Alaska, someone suggested that the policy should be amended, and after it received
enough up votes it was evaluated and the
policy was changed. It created the opportunity for us to harness a technology that other
people have brought to market.” R
Vanessa Orr is a freelance writer and
former editor of the Capital City Weekly
This image was
collected as part of a
pilot light and burner
of an oil production
facility flare tip on the
Alaska Aerial Media