Call 2022 the year of BVLOS. BVLOS is short for Beyond Visual Line of Sight, and flying drones in this manner is crucial to unlocking a huge swath of commercial drone operations. And in 2022, the first BVLOS drone flights of U.S. oil refineries have begun.
Israel based “drone-in-a-box” drone solution provider Percepto this winter received Federal Aviation Administration approval to conduct BVLOS drone operations for Delek US Holdings’ refineries located in both Tyler, Texas and El Dorado, Arkansas.
Percepto, which was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Best Inventions of 2021, mainly focuses its efforts on using industrial robotics, including drones, for autonomous inspections. And in a partnership with Delek, Percepto drones are inspecting the company’s facilities and providing visual data management and analysis. With the latest BVLOS approval, Delek US can now operate drones without a pilot to maintain line of sight with the drone. Instead, an operator located in a control room can manage and monitor pre-scheduled fully autonomous drone missions without necessarily needing to be near the drones.
Delek operates refineries and retail stores concentrated in the south and southwest United States, sourcing approximately 70% of its crude oil from the Permian Basin, via a combination of third-party and Delek pipelines.
Call 2022 the year of BVLOS approvals, as we’re seeing more and more companies gain such approvals. This particular approval makes Delek U.S. oil refineries the first to receive such an approval, and one of the first among all U.S. energy companies as well. Percepto operates other drones BVLOS with similar FAA approvals for customers including Florida Power & Light, and Verizon Skyward.
And this approval comes just after NUAIR, which is the New York-based nonprofit behind the FAA-designated New York UAS Test Site, landed a partnership with a big player in South Korea’s drone delivery space, Pablo Air. The two signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to develop regulatory-compliant commercial drone solutions that involve flying drones beyond visual line of sight.
Perhaps FAA Administrator Steve Dickson throwing shade at the BVLOS rules last year had something to do with it.
How do Percepto drones work in U.S. oil refineries?
Percepto builds its own drones, including the Percepto Sparrow, and the Percepto Air Max. Each have different payloads and capabilities for various tasks. For example, the Air Max features an Optical Gas Imaging (OGI) camera, capable of detecting gas emissions, and also able to inspect and map complex industrial environments where the highest accuracy and durability are critical.
Meanwhile, the Sparrow is well-suited for flying in challenging environments. In 2020, Percepto’s Sparrow became the first drone to pass Level 5 hurricane testing, largely due to its ability to fly at a wind speed of up to 155mph.
But it’s not just hardware — there’s software involved too. Percepto drones are managed by what’s called the Percepto Autonomous Inspection & Monitoring (AIM) platform. This platform can be designed for sector-specific use cases (such as oil and gas, in this scenario) to handle tasks including collating visual data from third-party surveillance devices on site, while providing a unified view of the entire facility, and detecting changes in drone-collected data.
Here are just a few examples of tasks that Percepto drones are doing in the Delek U.S. oil refineries:
- Providing aerial surveillance, monitoring, and inspection of assets, equipment, machinery, materials, and supplies.
- Enabling emergency response and crisis management services.
- Ensuring compliance with environmental and safety regulations.
- Providing pre-emptive risk notifications and mitigation services for worker safety.
What’s more, Percepto says that using drones provides “new solutions to old problems,” and suggested they may provide some environmental benefits to an industry fraught with concerns around climate change.
“This approval to use autonomous drone technology is a huge step forward towards cleaner and safer refineries within the oil and gas industry,” said Percepto CEO Dor Abuhasira.