This Startup Is Using Drones to Conduct Aeroplane Inspections

This Startup Is Using Drones to Conduct Aeroplane Inspections
Photo: Bruce Bennett, Getty Images
To sign up for our daily newsletter covering the latest news, features and reviews, head HERE. For a running feed of all our stories, follow us on Twitter HERE. Or you can bookmark the Gizmodo Australia homepage to visit whenever you need a news fix.

Aircraft inspection is the important, federally-mandated process of checking recently flown planes for signs of damage. Commercial airliners incur all sorts of wear and tear as they travel the skies, so it’s crucial to identify and track what it looks like. In recent years, the aviation industry has sought to modernise this process by investing in a robotic helper: drones, of course.

One company taking the lead in this space is Rizse, a startup based in Austin, Texas. Its “Dragunfly” UAV, designed with help from development firm Hatch Duo, comes equipped with a 3D Lidar system and a high-powered camera that can scan and document the surface of a plane for damages incurred during recent flights.

The kind of inspection being supplemented by Rizse’s services is called a general visual inspection, said company CEO Colby Harvey, a former Google Cloud engineer, via phone. “Essentially what we are is just a tool for the inspector to do the job much more safely and efficiently than it was [done] traditionally,” he said.

The general visual inspection occurs after a flight when a plane has been returned to the hangar. While obviously an important process, it has never been a particularly high-tech one: it involves a team of people (often from a third-party contractor) just looking at the plane to see if there are signs of damage, tearing, or other issues. Inside the hangar, the team will use some sort of raised platform — such as a boom or scissor lift — to observe the sides of the aircraft. Another inspector might be suspended from the hangar’s ceiling to observe the top of the plane. Inspection notes are written down on a piece of paper, typically, Harvey said. It takes hours and hours.

Rizse’s services seek to augment and enhance this process by making it quicker and more reliable, said the startup founder. The drones can zigzag over the surface of the plane, capturing and recording everything they see. The lidar system (essentially high-powered scanners) helps more accurately deduce the kinds of damage visible on the aircraft’s body. That information is subsequently stored in Streamsense, the company’s data collection and analysis platform, which helps with later audits of past inspections.

Rizse, which has received a number of substantial funding rounds, says that it has already begun to generate revenue by contracting with third-party inspection services provider Ascent Aviation Services. It has other partnerships in the works, too. While Rizse’s focus right now is commercial and business aviation, the company is also looking for potential opportunities with the military, said Harvey.

“Rizse was created to address a very old and stagnant industry that previously overlooked innovations to their detriment. We found a glaring weakness in the aircraft inspection process that could be resolved with modern technology currently available today,” said Harvey. Hopefully this technology can make the process “safer, more accurate, and cost-effective,” he said.