With the onset of drones, 3d data, and VR headsets many site visits and tower climbs can be performed remotely.

Enabling Remote Work for Telecom Workers

Written by

Josh Meler

Chief Marketing Officer

With the onset of drones, 3d data, digital twins, and VR headsets – many site visits and tower climbs can be performed remotely.

Since the pandemic, many industries, companies, and employees have exercised the freedom to work from home. For white-collar workers, most tasks can be completed remotely, and meetings can be attended virtually. Mobile devices, high-speed internet access, cloud-based software and so many other technologies have made remote work and collaboration not just possible – but in some cases preferable. Conversely, for most blue-collar workers, being onsite is a requirement for manual labor or service. This is the reality for tower technicians, site managers, and engineers who must maintain physical tower infrastructure. However, with the onset of drones, 3D data, digital twins, and AR/VR/MR headsets – many site visits and tower climbs can be performed remotely.

When do 3D models replace the need for a visit?

While some work will always require a truck roll, many of the tasks tower workers perform manually can be performed virtually. Through the process of photogrammetry, drones can capture and generate 3D Reality Models of tower sites as they are built today. But not every 3D model provides the same level of fidelity or surface coverage. When 3D model accuracy is poor, or when areas of the structure are missing, site visits are required to fill in the information gaps.

In the early days of drone captures, most tower companies tested cheap, off-the-shelf-drones with limited payloads and camera sensors. And while these drones unquestionably provide a quick birds-eye perspective, the 3D models produced have failed to eliminate the need for a tower climb. 3D models only replace the need for a tower climb when they provide the same level of measurement a technician can obtain while onsite. This includes steel width, pipe thickness, and other essential measurements that are needed in complex engineering analysis for load capacity or wind shear. Therefore, a 3D model must provide millimeter accuracy over the entire structure – or “Engineering Class” data.

A breakthrough in 3D data that enables VR

Drone data (and what is possible through the photogrammetric process) is largely dictated by the drone sensor itself. For example, a 20MP sensor designed to capture “survey-grade accuracy” cannot generate the same resolution, GSD, or point cloud density as a properly calibrated 61MP sensor with optical lens. The sensor in turn is the primary constraint for 3D model accuracy and coverage.

At Visual Intelligence, we recognized that a drone sensor capable of collecting Engineering Class data was missing in the marketplace. Additionally, pulling from decades of executive experience in the tower industry, we knew that if we could develop technology that could collect this new class of data, it would be an enabling tool for the entire industry. After years of development, and dozens of patents, we have commercialized a drone sensor that does just that.

Consolidating expertise from anywhere

With millimeter-accurate 3d models, many routine tower visits can now be done remotely. As opposed to a team of two or more driving hours to reach a site, then gearing up to climb the tower – a worker can now log into your database to perform the same assessment. This means staff will have the freedom to do work any time of day (day or night), and regardless of seasonality or inclement weather.

Truck rolls can be dramatically reduced, and work can be done faster and safer. The value of tower services increases too, as staff can accomplish more billable work per day. In this video, we highlight the reusability of drone data over the tower lifecycle.

Furthermore, this 3D data is accessible worldwide, removing geographic barriers and providing new access to skilled labor best suited for the task. This in turn will decrease reliance on third-party vendors, consolidating your workforce and potentially shifting operations in-house.

Immersive experiences enable collaboration

Immersive experiences too have been limited by the fidelity of the 3d environment users interact with. Historically, drones have delivered 3D experiences that lack a meaningful level of detail, and don’t get close to mimicking an in-person visit.

Engineering Class 3d data unlocks the potential of virtual Reality (VR) to augment in-person experiences – especially when multiple people are involved. VR technology goes beyond the desktop experience to create a virtual workspace that facilitates interaction between users – no matter their location. In real-time, employees across multiple skillsets can visit a millimeter-accurate 3D replica of a tower site to meet, review, and work on tasks together. For tower companies that have teams distributed across multiple cities or continents, collaborating in VR can be useful for tasks like co-location planning, site upgrades, or general leasing activities. In this example, we simulate what a Multi-Skilled Visits (MSV) would look like.

With the Telecom sector facing high costs, untimely delays, and skilled labor shortages, digitization is a key focus for tower companies. For the first time, the introduction of Engineering Class 3D drone data facilities an entirely new way of doing business. And as immersive VR experiences continue to mature, the prospect of remote work and experience consolidation is quickly becoming a reality.

Lift artificial limits on drone data accuracy.

Download our towers guide “Why Millimeters Matter”