IBM Pumps Up Inspection Drones With AI

mast-inspection_aerialtronics1-100682924-primary.idgeBig Blue is banking on a new deal with a Dutch drone company to launch the Internet of Things into bluer skies.

IBM announced a deal yesterday to deploy its Watson IoT platform with Netherlands-based Aerialtronics drones to enhance aerial inspection services across several sectors – notably for wireless tower inspections.

According to Computer World, IBM’s IoT system “interacts with information and unstructured data input from devices and sensors to ‘learn’ or analyze it for patterns, applying confidence ratings to its analysis to, for example, help inspectors decide when repairs should be done.”

The system will provide a visual recognition API to Aerialtronics drones that will in turn connect with IBM cloud platforms, allowing high-def cameras to transmit data to be analyzed by AI during inspection flights.

“IoT is developing faster and it’s like giving everything eyes, ears and a nose,” IBM Watson IoT general manager said Harriet Green in an interview with ZD Net,

Pairing Aerialtronics’ Altura Zenith drone platform with Watson’s enhanced “eyes, ears and a nose” can only raise the UAV company’s reputation as a leader in cell-phone tower inspections.

Last year, the company closed a deal with T-Mobile to inspect the wireless giant’s 5,000 antenna masts across the Netherlands. Manned inspections can take up to seven days and involves several workers using cherry-picker trucks – a potentially dangerous occupation.

“Instead of sending humans to laboriously climb towers and report back, inspection teams can deploy drones, which quickly gain a 360-degree overview,” writes Computer World editor Marc Ferranti.

“The visual recognition APIs can then analyze the images captured by the drone to detect problems like damaged cabling or equipment defects.”

If the marriage of AI and UAV tech proves to be a hit, Aerialtronics will likely apply Watson across other inspection sectors such as wind turbines, oil rigs, and solar arrays.

“[Drone inspection systems] are not only about reliability and a high performing drone, but also its ability to work with existing data gathering tools and within existing workflows and methods, Robin van de Putte, founder and Chief of Product Strategy said in a recent company press release. “Businesses are interested in gathering multiple data streams during one or multiple flights.”

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