Drones and NVIDIA AI are Transforming GE Safety Inspections

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The inspector sits at the controls, eyes glued to the screen as the autonomous drone flies past working flare stacks and heated gas plumes. It buzzes from place to place, identifying corrosive spots, marking them for maintenance.

If this sounds like a video game, that’s not surprising: the technology making this flight possible was originally designed for gaming. Through a new partnership between Avitas Systems, an inspection business launched by GE Ventures, and NVIDIA, a leader in artificial intelligence, the tools that make video games so immersive will help inspectors ensure the safety at places like refineries and power plants.

Industrial inspection can be a high-risk and expensive business because of the manual nature of the work. It often requires humans to scale up to the tops of flare stacks or dive to the depths of underwater pipelines. Flare stacks, for example, burn off waste gas and must be shut down for days before they become cool enough for an inspector to approach. “Many companies spend $100 million dollars plus on inspection of their industrial assets,” says Alex Tepper, managing director at Avitas Systems.

Drones or robots, on the other hand, can get close to high-temperature flare stacks and go into vapor-filled fuel tanks while they’re in operation. They can also gather high quality video, photographic images (shown above), infrared, and temperature data.

But making these drone inspections work requires processing large amounts of data — and that’s where NVIDIA comes in. “When you’re driving in a video game and you see a lifelike puddle picking up the light, it’s our technology making that imagination possible,” says Jim McHugh, General Manager of NVIDIA. “And that same underlying technology is incredibly well-suited for artificial intelligence: both take an incredible amount of computational power. By applying that power to data, Avitas Systems is able to unleash artificial intelligence to solve risk based inspection with incredible accuracy.”

During inspections, AI can help by designing specific paths to limit drone flight time, making those inspections more efficient. For example, if there are 15 points that need to be checked, the drone can travel the fastest path between those points.

Read the source post at the GE blog.