General Electric (GE) has revealed that it’s developing drones that are able to sniff out methane emissions and quickly discover gas leaks.
Unsurprisingly, these drones aren’t designed to hover around your home boiler or fireplace – instead they’ve been developed with the natural gas and oil industries in mind, which have recently gone through some severe budget cuts and staff cuts.
Called Raven, the drones are being developed at General Electric’s oil and gas technology center in Oklahoma City where it was proven during a trial run that the technology could find detect gas leaks from well sites half a mile apart.
Sniffing out trouble
Weighing just ten pounds and able to travel up to 50 miles per hour for periods of 40 minutes, GE says the helicopter drone could make leak inspections three times faster than when they’re done by a human worker.
Not only that, but with its laser-based sensors Raven is able to feed back information on just how bad a leak is, whereas the infrared camera currently used by human inspectors can only detect the existence of a leak and not establish its severity. The drone is also loaded with custom software that allows it to plan its own flight and analyze the data it gathers.
As a result of cuts, the oil and gas industries need to find ways to keep costs down but increase efficiency. This in addition to the fact that it’s now an Environmental Protection Agency requirement that fields be regularly monitored for leaks, potentially making drone technology an essential element in maintaining productivity.
In fact, in the future, it’s likely that drones won’t only be useful for detecting gas leaks, but also things like inspecting more difficult to reach machinery for corrosion.
As far as the Raven’s future is concerned, GE has plans to continue developing the technology at its research and development center and although it’s not entirely certain just how much money the drones will save overall, it will deploy a third drone for testing soon.
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Emma Boyle is TechRadar’s ex-Gaming Editor, and is now a content developer and freelance journalist. She has written for magazines and websites including T3, Stuff and The Independent. Emma currently works as a Content Developer in Edinburgh.