DNV GL: The Drone Squad for Ship Surveys

Maritime Activity Reports, Inc.

March 18, 2018

Photo: DNV GL

Photo: DNV GL

With four drone types in its arsenal, DNV GL has adapted its survey technology to various ship structures. Recently DNV GL reached a new milestone with its first offshore drone survey.

It's a gusty day in Gdynia, Poland, and outside the DNV GL station Leszek Alba is waiting for the wind to change. Alba is one of DNV GL’s 16 drone surveyors. Today, he is testing the Custom drone’s stability in different wind conditions and the stability of the video transmission – an important factor during the inspection of remote structural components in tanks and cargo holds.
Since DNV GL carried out its first production drone survey in June 2016, it has become the leading provider in this field. “When we started out, we wanted to find a safer, more efficient and cheaper way of fulfilling the requirements of close-up surveys. During these inspections, a surveyor has to be able to touch a surface to check the condition of the material,” explains Cezary Galinski, Senior Principal Surveyor and Head of the DNV GL drone squad. 
This global team is headquartered in Gdynia but also works out of Dubai, Shanghai, Singapore and Houston. “So instead of taking the surveyor to the component, we bring the component to the surveyor, on 4k, high-definition video,” he adds. So far the team has conducted more than 25 drone production surveys around the world. Typical ships include tankers, bulkers and, more recently, semi-submersibles and jack-ups. “These are the vessel types that require close-up surveys,” explains Galinski.
DNV GL has four drone types in its arsenal: The Custom drone, the DJI Phantom, the Mavic drone and the Flyability Elios drone – each with different capabilities and areas of application. What they all have in common is that they were modified in Leszek Alba’s workshop. 
This cellar room, filled with carefully catalogued shelves, spare cables, batteries, soldering irons and a variety drones in different stages of construction, is where DNV GL customizes off-the-shelf drones to make them fit for inspection purposes.
“Commercially available drones are built for users who fly them outside in open spaces and shoot footage of objects below. So, one of the first things we do is change the drone’s software settings for adjusting the camera angle. This enables us to film objects that are in front of or above the drone,” says Galinski.
Looking ahead Galinski expects drones to revolutionize the inspection regime. “I am confident we will see the introduction of autonomous drones. This would open up many new possibilities. For example, they could be dropped into inerted compartments where humans cannot enter,” he explains. 
The surveyor could stay outside while the drone would follow a predefined flight path to check the condition of the compartment. “This would enable us to carry out inspections without lengthy preparations, while keeping the surveyors safe,” adds Galinski. In future, it might even be possible for an autonomous drone equipped with artificial intelligence to carry out a survey independently, monitored by the surveyor from the shore office using a virtual-reality headset.
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