Skydio Pioneers Future of Utility Sector with Groundbreaking Operational Technology

 

The utility industry, at a pivotal moment of transformation, is witnessing a technological renaissance, spearheaded by innovative companies like Skydio. The Skydio X10 drone, a marvel of modern engineering, is revolutionizing how utilities inspect and maintain critical infrastructure, offering unmatched precision and reliability. This advancement is not isolated; it’s part of a broader trend where operational technology is rapidly evolving to address the perennial challenges of aging infrastructure, compliance requirements, and an aging workforce. Partnerships, such as the one between Skydio and Trimble, highlight a shift towards integrated solutions that promise greater efficiency and accuracy in project management.

As drones become more integrated into daily operations, they’re not just tools but strategic assets that enable utilities to navigate the complexities of modern infrastructure management, underscoring the critical role of operational technology in the sector’s ongoing transformation.

Amidst this backdrop of innovation and adaptation, MarketScale was on the show floor of DISTRIBUTECH 2024 and spoke with Christina Park, the Senior Director of Energy Strategy at Skydio. Park offered a unique perspective on how cutting-edge drone technology, a key component of today’s operational technology toolkit, is shaping the future of utilities and energy sectors.

Christina’s Thoughts

“So Skydio is super excited to be here at DISTRIBUTECH 2024. It’s one of the largest utility conferences of the year, especially focused on technology for utilities. So Skydio is really interested in utilities as one of our utilities and energy as one of our key verticals, because we are focusing on the critical industries that our society relies upon. So when we think about the critical functions that exist, electricity is one of the major ones that is necessary for everybody.

Yeah, so the utility industry is in a really, really ripe inflection plight at this time. There are some problems that have been in existence for a long time, such as aging infrastructure, the aging workforce,compliance requirements and emergency response.”

Operational Technology to Meet Challenges

“So in light of all the challenges that utilities face, it’s actually a time here now in 2024 where they really can’t be ignored. And with the increasing scope year over year, both the compliance and inspections, but with the increasing pressure to keep the headcounts flat, utilities are having to turning to operationalize technology in order to supplement the headcount and the budget constraints that they have.

What’s really exciting is that drones are no longer just seen as a toy that’s used in R&D departments or just being investigated for the first time. They’re actually being embraced by operations, data and end users in order to solve the real problems that they face every day. Better data leads to better decisions, which leads to better outcomes. So we at Skydio are really focused on understanding the customer problems and what business outcomes they want to achieve, and then working backwards to put the right solution and match it up with the right problem.”

Compliance is a Growing Concern

“So one of the challenges that we’re seeing our utility customers address is compliance. So compliance is something that’s growing year over year. And every utility professional knows that failing an audit is just not an option. And so in the face of that, especially against the fact that there are resource constraints for both headcount and budget, they have to find a way to meet their compliance requirements and to be able to document them. And being able to document them digitally is a major plus because you have a record that’s irrefutable. So that’s something that we’ve seen as a major use case that is actually only scratching the surface.”

Multiplying Workforce Impact with Operational Technology

“So we have some customers that are using it to document for their audits in order to do attestations, for example,at substations, to test to what equipment they have out in the field and making sure that it matches the equipment that’s in their prints. In order to meet this is just a load of work. I think what’s really exciting and what Skydio is focused on as far as utilities is concerned is becoming the workplace multiplier. So where they’re not allowed to increase their workforce to tackle the increasing skill that they have, they can use technology, particularly our technology that’s very easy to support anybody to use.

Not only to multiply one task can be done by their workforce, but to multiply the impact and the output of their workforce. So not only the workforce that sits on the ground, but also for the executives to have all the information that they need in order to make the decisions that shape the direction of the company.

So one of the things that Skydio is focused on for utilities and the concept of condition-based maintenance is that this is something that every utility really wants to achieve. But it’s very, very difficult to figure out how to do it. So many utilities have done this or have started doing this by using IoT sensors and have seen a lot of success with that, using sensors and analytics in order to monitor their equipment and to get a guarantee of their asset health.”

The Goal of Condition-Based Maintenance

“Where Skydio comes in is you can’t put an IoT sensor on everything. There are places where they’re hard to get, they’re hard to maintain, and they’re just plain expensive. So the idea of having an aerial moving sensor where you can get a continuous, ubiquitous understanding of your asset health at any given time and use this to monitor multiple assets, that’s really exciting. And that’s a lot of the value that we bring.”

Bridging the Knowledge Gap with Drone Solutions

“So another problem that utilities face is the fact that traditionally subject matter experts have been cultivated over time. So it takes decades of apprenticeship and having a really good mentor to really become an expert in your field, just because that’s the way the industry works. And a lot of times apprentices are brought up by just handing out type of knowledge. This is a problem today because most of the expertise lies in people who are at retirement age, and at the point of retirement, it’s really hard to get that expertise down or to even handthat knowledge as data down because it may or may not have ever been written down.

So this is where drone solutions can come in because you have a full digital record of everything you’re capturing, and it helps with training up the next generation so that once this generation moves on, that the next generation can pick up where they left off, even after they’ve lost data without warning.”

Article written by Sonia Gossai

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