Written by Stuart Foxman

Companies in industries like oil and gas, power, transportation and telecommunications have physical assets that require careful monitoring. That happens on the ground, but sometimes the most valuable insight comes from above.

“We have the ability to have eyes in the sky,” says Didi Horn, founder and CEO of SkyX (skyx.com).

The Toronto company combines long-range drones and an operating system to capture and analyze critical information. SkyX uses proprietary technology and extended flights to transmit data about infrastructure – like pipelines, railroads and hydroelectric lines – back to home base.

A drone is an unmanned aircraft. Drones can be remotely controlled, or fly autonomously through programmed flight plans. The SkyX drones are equipped with live feed capabilities and an array of customizable sensors to accumulate high-quality visual data. SkyX’s own artificial intelligence systems then analyze the data captured, and classify anomalies, to produce reports from each scan.

Before starting SkyX, Horn served in the military for 10 years, and has experience as a drone pilot. He understood the commercial need, and calls SkyX a data services and predictive analytics platform.

With their bird’s eye view, the drones don’t replace but augment traditional ways of collecting data. Rather than just rely on trucks driving along a pipeline, for instance, the drones can fly on a monthly, weekly or daily basis, “taking the same picture of the same asset,” says Horn.

Based on this intelligence, clients can make informed decisions about the health of their infrastructure, mitigate risks associated with having remote assets, and reduce costs for maintenance.

Beyond forecasting what will happen to their assets in the future, clients can take appropriate and timely action as a result of the drone reports.

Consider just one application: pipeline integrity. SkyX can help determine the type, cause and size of crude oil spills and natural gas leaks, all before deploying crews to the site. Or, SkyX could visually verify and safely determine the type, cause and size of galvanized and pitted corrosion before engaging field operations to perform fixes.

Other benefits include ensuring that a pipeline right of way is free of physical encumbrances (to comply with health and safety regulations), and monitoring and analyzing the pipeline structure and right of way (to allow operators to quickly identify unauthorized activity).

SkyX started in 2015, and now has 30 employees. Besides the Toronto headquarters, the company has a development hub in Romania and a group in Houston for sales. The team includes aeronautical, robotic and electrical engineers, mission control directors and data analytics experts.

The company owns all drones deployed, trains drone pilots and operators, and is responsible for maintaining the fleet.

While there are broad applications, SkyX decided to focus first on the oil and gas industry. “We’re disrupting the way they, and others, gather information,” says Horn.

By doing so, clients can reach new heights in protecting their assets.

Photo credit: Glenn Lowson