New Bridge Inspection Business Experiences 70X Growth Using Skydio
Japan Infrastructure Waymark (JIW) — a bridge inspection specialist — grows bridge inspection business 70-fold by using Skydio. This is timely because Japan has a network of approximately 714,000 bridges that are due for inspection.
After a careful testing process that evaluated several different company drones, the JIW team chose AI-enhanced Skydio. According to JIW, the onboard intelligence of Skydio Autonomy was the key difference that convinced them to choose Skydio for their business model.
They have since found that the JIW’s 300+ Skydio drones have transformed their operations and made safe flights in complex environments possible, as well as more precise data capture and scalable operations.
After making the change from DJI to Skydio, JIW’s inspection business grew 70x in 12 months.When it realized inspections using the drones it had selected weren’t going to produce the expected results, JIW audited only 10 bridges in Japan’s network of 714,000. Since deploying its squad of over 300 new Skydio 2 automated craft, JIW’s client list has exploded, and is now on target to surpass 700 by the end of this year. That’s a multiplier of 70 for anyone keeping score – representing an unheard of expansion via new business, in barely a year.
JIW’s dramatic turnaround shows how the correct technology solutions won’t pan out unless they are matched with the right applications.
It didn’t take long for the company to understand its first choice of drones weren’t performing as hoped. According to JIW, inspections using unmanned aerial systems (UAS) often did not even meet their own minimal requirements. In fact, at times, they could not complete assigned missions.
Because of the kind of data JIW required for its audits, its drones needed to navigate in, out, through, and around bridge trusses. However, at first the drones found it difficult to navigate in those settings. In spite of the extensive training, JIW pilots found it difficult merely to keep the drones from crashing. This revealed the need for major changes.
Instead of giving up on drones, JIW looked to UAS to see what they offered that might meet their needs. As a result of comparative testing of various drone companies, JIW found Skydio to be the best option. JIW CEO, Takumi Shibata, pointed out that the onboard intelligence of Skydio Autonomy turned out to be a “perfect” fit for the needs of his company. He put it:
“Thanks to Skydio Autonomy, our inspectors can benefit from AI-powered obstacle avoidance, which enables safe flights in the GPS- and magnetometer- denied areas that are prevalent under bridges we inspect. No other drone came close to successfully completing bridge inspection missions in our trials process, and we are thrilled to be able to adopt Skydio’s new technologies.”*
The Skydio Autonomy on Skydio 2 made safe and effective operation in the difficult areas — the nooks and crannies — of bridge trusses. In the meantime, AI applications in the Skydio Autonomy Enterprise Foundation platform included Close Proximity Obstacle Avoidance, Precision Mode, and Vertical View that made it possible for the drone to get into very small and awkward places and shoot footage at the desired angles. The result was clear — precise imagery that made the high quality audits that attract new customers.
The good news for the company doesn’t end there. In its current operation of over 300 Skydio drones JIW, has hired 68 new pilots in the last year, and reduced the time necessary to train them from 100 to a mere 8 hours. It is estimated that new drones will generate cost reductions of as much as 75%, compared to previous UAS inspections.
JIW found that manual drones required extensive pilot training, yet generated low precision inspections and the hardware-centric UAS options were incapable of successfully completing the job of inspecting bridges.
They were incapable of flying stably under certain structures, especially the inability to capture data of the underside of the bridge, where the most important inspection data needs to be captured.
Before inspections of bridges by drones, such work included climbers and snooper trucks, which are expensive and dangerous.
We have found that the solution to the challenges of bridge inspections is Skydio Autonomy, which enables safe operations in complex environments, to capture more precise data.
Skydio Autonomy enables inspectors to generate 3D Scans that include the underside and interior structures of bridges, which are inaccessible to manual drones that cannot fly inside the bridge structure due to their dependence on GPS and magnetometers.
It should not be surprising then that JIW is growing the bridge inspection business 70-fold.