Many companies have moved away from traditional inspection methods and toward drones as a way to reduce costs and complete inspections in a safe and timely manner. Zenith, our newest inspection system, offers an even simpler, more time efficient alternative to a drone. Built with engineers and inspectors in mind, we believe there are 5 key reasons to use Zenith over a drone:
1. ZENITH IS ALREADY FULLY AUTOMATED
When it comes to using drones in indoor spaces, reliable automation can be a challenge. Outdoor drones use GPS and a compass to navigate, but these technologies don’t function well inside confined spaces. While the technology to provide indoor drones with reliable and low-cost automated flight capabilities isn’t available yet, Zenith is already performing fully automated indoor inspections made possible by a military grade IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) and Hall-Effect depth sensors, which work similar to the GPS and compass on an outdoor drone. An inspector simply inputs asset dimensions and lets Zenith do the rest. Zenith is also capable of capturing 100% photographic coverage with no human interaction. This full photo coverage lends well to creating 3D photogrammetry models via third-party software like pix4d.com. Zenith will also soon include a “go back” feature for inspection repeatability, which means next year it will return to the defect locations you identified during your first inspection.
2. ABILITY TO CARRY ADDITIONAL PAYLOADS
To maintain effective performance, drones have a very specific weight limitation. This means that if an operator adds a payload to a drone, it typically must be the smallest sensor possible, which often results in decreased accuracy and lower performance. In contrast, Zenith can carry a lot of extra weight—without a decrease in performance. Because Zenith hangs from a cable, operators can add up to 5 lbs. onto the bottom shell without changing any of the unit’s design characteristics. The result is that Zenith can carry additional, high-performing primary payloads beyond the 30x optical zoom visual camera already built into the gimbal. Potential add-on sensors include thermal imaging, gas detection, LIDAR, radiation sensors, and even additional lighting for extended camera range.
3. LESS RISK THAN A DRONE
One of the key selling points for using drones during internal inspections is to alleviate the need for human entry into a confined space. But the reality is that no matter how many safeguards and redundancies you put into place, a drone will fall out of the air if it runs out of battery power or has a mechanical or software malfunction. This is why a “retrieval plan” is often written into inspections to allow for retrieval of a broken drone. With Zenith, there is less risk because it hangs safely from a steel cable that supports more than 20 times the weight of the unit. Its tripod includes built-in safety features, such as pin tethers, anchor points and manual winch reeling—all making Zenith much less risky than a drone during routine inspections.
4. NO CERTIFICATION NEEDED
If your company is considering starting a drone inspection division or team, it’s important to know that performing commercial drone inspections requires each pilot to have an FAA Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate. This means the operator must go through training and pass testing to become a licensed FAA drone operator. This license must be renewed every two years. Zenith, however, does not require FAA licensing or other certifications, which means a traditional inspector can easily use this tool. Unlike drones, which often require in-person training before use, Zenith does not require in-person training. All Zenith trainings are offered via online videos, and an inspector can expect to be comfortable operating the system in just 30 minutes. Zenith is also extremely simple to operate—automatically pairing all electronic devices and showing their status through 3 clearly lit green lights—which makes it a clear go-to option for many companies.
5. SIGNIFICANTLY LONGER BATTERY LIFE
While drones typically operate for less than 20 minutes per battery, Zenith operates for more than 2 hours. Inspectors love this as it provides more time to focus on actual inspections rather than constantly swapping out batteries. In a recent automated inspection, our service team captured two silos with 100% coverage and still had more than 60% battery life remaining!