Market opportunities from using drones in the maritime sector

26 October 2020 - Published by Stig Marthinsen

Rapid development within the drone industry results in improved mobility, higher measuring accuracy, and significant improvements in productivity—both in time and cost saving. Autonomous drones can survey spaces that people cannot access, or those that are unsafe, such as duct keels, ballast and potable water tanks, or cargo and storage tanks. Drones can inspect offshore infrastructure, deliver packages over sea, scan for overboard people, detect environmentally damaging emissions and much more.  

Every year people die inspecting enclosed spaces. These spaces can contain depleted oxygen levels, toxic gases, and/or material otherwise unsafe for humans. Using drones for this work will enhance safety and reduce costs. Drone-based solutions for the inspection of enclosed spaces consist of sending drones into void spaces, duct keels, ballast and potable water tanks, or cargo and storage tanks, for mapping, surveying, sniffing, the identification of structural weaknesses (such as rust and dents) and measuring the thickness of paint and the thickness of the tank walls (often steel). 

Enclosed space inspections on ships alone are estimated to cost $279mn globally/year. For land-based inspections, drones working a single day can do what three workers need three days to complete, without requiring any suspension of operations. Furthermore, drones can survey spaces that people cannot access, or only access through scaffolding, and drones are faster to acquire, transmit, and report data.

As the use and application of drones increase, the manufacturing costs of high capability drones will decrease. The real value in the future will be generated by those offering drone-based services. Drone operators will undertake work for firms, and consultants will analyze the data flows. Value will come from the software, advanced sensor technologies, and special applications, rather than from the drone hardware. 

A real game changer may come when drones can perform tasks autonomously, where trained pilots are not needed. For maritime and offshore applications, drone developers are targeting oil and gas companies for infrastructure inspection and monitoring, while application for enclosed spaces is forthcoming. The implementation of drones for inspecting enclosed spaces is not easy, due to the special requirements for safety due to the risk of explosion that requires certification, and that the navigation of tight spaces requires precision.

In order to reap the expected benefits for the growth in blue economy and to increase the safety for the workers more research and development is required. 

The Periscope Network, together with maritime services providers, classification societies, yards and shipowners, are developing a joint project to bring these products and services faster to the market and mapping available funding streams.

A matchmaking event will be held on November 23, jointly organised by the Dutch and Danish partners, in order for projects to start in 2021.

Image © Florian Pircher/ Pixabay