UAS Helps Reduce Inspection Climbs, Strain, Risk


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NATE Goes to Washington-Spring 2018

Several representatives of the National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) came to Washington, D.C. in late April to lobby Congress, the FCC and various government agencies. Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief Leslie Stimson met with six members of their lobbying team:

  • NATE Board Director John Paul Jones
  • Board Chairman Jim Tracy
  • Secretary/Treasurer Kevin Dougherty
  • Board Director Jimmy Miller
  • Executive Director Todd Schlekeway
  • Director of Legislative and Regulatory Affairs Jim Goldwater

In Part Three of our series, we cover Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS).

IT: What are you talking to the FAA about concerning UAS and why?

Tracy: The reason for talking about UAS or drones, is that we can perhaps reduce the number of inspection climbs, which reduces repetitive strain, which reduces risk to the climber. If we can do that at a professional level, that’s our rationale for going to talk to the FAA. When talking to OSHA, employee safety is our primary concern. All the agencies kind of look at us like: ‘Why are the tower guys here?’ Because what they do impacts what we do.

IT: Do the climbers worry about UAS taking away their jobs?

Tracy: It’s another tool in the toolbox.

Jones: We’re employing the climber and we’re giving him another method so now, we train him as a drone operator. He’s still the guy who goes to the site, but now he’s using drone technology instead of brute force and physical strength to get up the tower. So what would normally take four hours to evaluate an engineering issue, can be done in 30 minutes with a UAS — safely from the ground. And we can have it in the cloud and in the customer’s hands at the same time.

IT: You’re the head of NATE’s UAS Committee. Where is the FAA on UAS legislation?

Miller: The FAA has worked diligently with us in establishing rules and regulations [regarding] flying around communications structures. UAS are a perfect fit in terms of safety, engineering data and reducing repetitive motion [which is tiring on elbows and knees, for example.] The committee has also written the first of its kind best practices guidelines for the operation of UAS around telecom structures. The FAA has reviewed it and likes it. It’s the first of its kind for UAS for any trade organization.

IT: So the UAS helps climbers; it saves on the number of climbs, but also on the wear and tear on climber’s bodies…

Dougherty: Say we need to go up and measure something. With the sensor technology in these devices now, advances in photogrammetry, that can be done without climbing.

IT: Photogrammetry?

Tracy: The stitching together of the pixels on sequential photographs to create an accurate 360 degree view — and also point cloud, which is identifying one individual point on the tower and using that as a measuring reference point as the aircraft rotates around the tower. And when you hold a specific distance away from any object then you can translate dimensions. The capability is there now for us to fly near a tower and accurately measure all the dimensions of the tower and the appurtenances on it.

There’s also some ground-based systems where you set up a tripod on the ground and it’s talking to the UAS. There’s one called RTK, that’s talking and identifying where the UAV is positionally. It allows you to measure more accurately because you’re triangulating positions. The real change then, is that we will provide the client, be it a carrier or tower owner, with actionable data. Rather than [saying] here’s 7,000 gigabits or whatever they are of data, now we can provide them something they can actually use.

IT: You’re sending images…

Jones: If this glass is sitting on top of the tower, I can fly around that glass and say that glass is 4.78 inches tall and the diameter is this. I can measure all that as well as take a photo of it and have it in the engineer’s hands with dimensionally, perfectly correct measurements pretty quick. That saves two guys, four hours to go do the same thing. And human error is taken out of the picture as well.

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

May 8, 2018           


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