Percepto Autonomous Drones to Monitor One of the World’s Largest Hydro-Floating Solar Farms In Thailand

Percepto, an israeli provider of autonomous inspection by industrial robotics, announced a successful completion of a proof-of-concept (POC) with the Electric Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) for the monitoring of a 250 acre floating solar farm, one of the largest of its kind in the world.

The size of 70 soccer fields and located 350m from the nearest shoreline, the solar farm is on the Sirindhorn dam basin in Southeastern Thailand, consisting of seven sections floating on buoys. Partnering with Top Engineering Corporation, a Thai drone consultancy and equipment provider, Percepto AIM software and Percepto Air drone-in-a-box will enable autonomous routine inspections of panels and other equipment to ensure proper operation and detect anomalies before they turn into bigger issues.

Joining Thailand’s electrical grid last October, the $34 million project reflects the country’s push to achieve carbon neutral status by 2050 with 145,000 solar panels harnessing power from the sun during the day and converting energy from flowing water at night. The country is seeking to use more renewable energy sources and reduce its reliance on natural gas, the current largest source for electricity generation.

Given the solar farm’s size and distance from land, equipment inspection and maintenance are cumbersome. Without drones, inspection staff would need to access the panel by boat to manually review the panels or go offshore to simply launch a drone that could provide visual inspection. Inspectors also face obstacles due to weather conditions such as extreme heat, rain and fog. Percepto drone-in-box is a robust system that was the first to pass Level 5 hurricane testing at wind speeds of up to 155 mph, and sturdy enough to handle the heat and humidity of Thailand’s tropical climate.

Percepto’s automated drones will provide regular operations and maintenance reports, map the location of the panel, and perform inspections of substations, transformers, floating fences and solar floaters which hold the panel above water. When an anomaly is detected, workers can know the exact problem, and where it is located. While one person must be in the vicinity of the panel for regulatory reasons, the inspection can be conducted remotely from Bangkok, more than 600 km away from the dam.

“We are very excited to partner with EGAT and Top Engineering Corporation on this unique and environmentally sustainable electricity project,” said Percepto Co-founder and CEO Dor Abuhasira. “Autonomous drones are strengthening the sustainable positioning of renewable energy facilities to achieve global climate targets. With Percepto drones, solar farms such as EGAT can be consistently monitored and inspected regardless of their size or location to further unleash the potential of renewable energy sources.”

“This project illustrates the breadth of our unique capabilities as countries explore innovative solutions in their push to reduce their reliance on traditional energy sources. We’re looking forward to full drone deployment and working with EGAT and Top Engineering to leverage the many benefits of our platform,” adds Ehud Ollech, Head Of Business Development and Partnerships.

“Percepto drones will dramatically improve the consistency at which the panel provides customers with electricity, how quickly repairs are made, and the safety level of our employees,” said EGAT Chief, Fuel Business Development Department, Chanapan Kongnam. “Rather than sending out staff to inspect the panel, we will deploy inspections much more frequently than could be achieved manually. Staff are only sent out when repairs are necessary and they will know the nature of the problem and where it will be located to spend as little time on the water as possible.”

“We applaud Thailand for its innovation and commitment to developing sustainable energy sources,” said Top Engineering Managing Director, Kornnarong Tungfung. “By deploying autonomous drones powered by AI technology, Thai solar farms will be continuously observed for a variety of factors to ensure they consistently generate electricity for the people of Thailand.”

Percepto’s AIM platform fully automates visual data workflows from capture to insight, leveraging the Percepto Air drone-in-a-box portfolio, alongside other robots and visual sensors. Using advanced machine learning and AI, Percepto AIM provides an end-to-end autonomous inspection and monitoring solution, to assess risk, minimize downtime, drive efficiency, increase safety and reduce operational costs.

Percepto’s solutions are trusted by Fortune 500 customers on six continents including Siemens Energy, Delek US, Koch Fertilizer and ICL Dead Sea Works. The company is the recipient of multiple prestigious awards including Edison Gold Award and Frost & Sullivan Global Enabling Technology Leadership Award.

Three Israeli drone companies are on the fast track to receive permanent FAA license 

[Pictured above: Aerobotics’ Optimus EX-1 drone]

First time in the autonomous Unmanned Aircraft industry, the FAA is close to issue a global certification for drones, similar to manned ones. As no unified standards exist for unmanned aircraft, the FAA has developed a designated Durability and Reliability verification process to establish criteria as an element of the proposed certification. The FAA has published last month the Airworthiness Criteria for Special Classes of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), following public comments, which includes 10 drones of several companies, among them three Israeli companies: Airobotics, Flytrex and Percepto.    

Percepto Company has received a final criterion for its 2.4 UA drone, designed for monitoring and lookout missions. This certificate will allow the drone to fly over populated areas at an altitude of 393 ft and 28 mph. Flytrex Company has received a final criterion for its FTX-M600P drone, designed for delivery of packages. This criterion covers a relatively low altitude – 230 ft and a speed of 34 mph. Airobotics Company has received a final criterion for its Optimus EX-1 drone, allowing it to fly over populated areas at an altitude of 393 ft and 31 mph.

The process of gaining the approval in front of the FAA has started for Airobotics at September 2019. Currently, in order to fly a drone it is required to request a waiver for each mission and each area cell where the drone is expected to operate. For example, if an infrastructures company is interested in flying an autonomous drone over it site for monitoring and security, it requires requesting a special approval. Gaining a “type certificate” will make it possible to operate the drone under the label of its type, without the need to request a special approval, in the same way it is done for manned aircrafts today. 

Flytrex delievery drone

Global certificate, similar to manned aircraft

Getting the final certificate will extend the drone’s usage capabilities, and will shorten the bureaucratic processes required to operate it. Airobotics VP Aviation and Regulation, Niv Russo, explains in a conversation with Techtime that up to date, no aviation authority had issued such criteria for unmanned aircrafts, “Surely not for a vehicle characterized by high level of autonomy such as our drone. Airobotics’ model has received a highly expanded criterion.  We gathered many hours of flying an experience that made it possible for the FAA to define the safety level of the vehicle. We have completed all the tests and proofing and we are in the final bureaucratic phases. I guess we are in the most advanced phase within this process’.

According to Russo, “this is a defining moment for the whole global drone industry”. Airobotics’ Optimus EX-1 is used for surveying, mapping and lookout missions. This model is intended to operate in demanding environment conditions and is completely autonomous. It navigates its position at a 1cm resolution and is able to perform its mission autonomously and independently return to its docking station. Back in the docking station, the drone is capable of autonomously performing a full process of switching battery and payloads. One of the drone’s safety facilities is an emergency parachute developed by the Israeli ParaZero Company, assuring safe landing in case of a fault. 

Percepto’s patrol drone

Percepto and Boston Dynamics to provide Multi-robot Inspection

Boston Dynamics and Percepto from Modi’in, Israel, have combined their products into an autonomous monitoring and inspection solution for dangerous and remote industrial sites. Founded in 2014, Percepto has developes the autonomus industrial drone Sparrow, as a drone-in-a-box solution. Sparrow was adopted to monitor some of the world’s leading utility, oil & gas sites, mining and other critical infrastructure facilities.

Lately the company moved to a higher level: It created an Autonomous Inspection & Monitoring (AIM) platform that can manage a fleet of third-party robots alongside Sparrow drone. By installing its own PerceptoCore payload on each drone, the cloud-based AIM provides visual data management and analysis to report trends and anomalies and to alert of risks. When a member of staff request data, Percepto AIM deploys the most suitable robot independently without human accompaniment to retrieve and stream the required data.

Here comes the cooperation with Boston Dynamics: Spot is an agile doglike mobile robot developed by Boston Dynamics that navigates terrain with unprecedented mobility. Percepto has integrated Spot with its AIM for automated inspection rounds completely controlled remotely via the platform. Spot carries Percepto’s PerceptoCore payload, which includes high resolution imaging and thermal vision sensors.

Spot and Sparrow working together at the Dead Sea, Israel
Spot and Sparrow working together at the Dead Sea, Israel

They are able detect issues including hot spots on machines or electrical conductors, water and steam leaks around plants and equipment with degraded performance, with the data relayed via AIM. “Combining Percepto’s Sparrow drone with Spot creates a unique solution for remote inspection,” said Michael Perry, VP at Boston Dynamics.

This week the company also won a financing boost to its vision: A strategic investment of $45 million in Series B funding led by Koch Disruptive Technologies (KDT) to launch its solution for remote, fully autonomous, asset monitoring and inspection. It brings the total investment in the company to $72.5 million.