In the summer of 2015, the year that private applications for drone licenses began to skyrocket, Noah Ruiz was watching a news story about how unmanned aerial systems (UAS) were being used for aerial photography.
He saw untapped potential.
“I knew there was so much more that drones could be used for,” said the former army vet, who was employed at that time as an equipment tech at a semiconductor plant. Within three months, Ruiz had founded Skynetwest, a data retrieval company that operates highly advanced UAS to collect information for mapping and infrastructure inspection.
The startup joined Chandler Innovations 14 months ago.
Now, after three years of smaller projects that have allowed the company to grow gradually, Skynetwest is embarking on a multi-year agreement with a major regional utility company for inspection work on power lines and generating stations. Ruiz could not disclose the identity of the utility as the scope of the agreement is still being finalized but noted it has the potential to produce in excess of $100,000 annually for the company.
Inspections done manually would likely cost more, be less comprehensive and more dangerous given they are done by individuals, according to Skynetwest Director of Strategy Sean Goetz.
“We can maneuver into difficult spaces, which may be risky and costly to access by any other means,” he said. “We enable our clients to review data and perform inspections from the comfort and safety of their desktops in a way that’s faster and more detailed than visual inspections.”
Skynetwest does not charge clients by the time the drones are in the sky capturing data, but by the gigabytes of information the systems ultimately provide. In several cases, this has saved clients hundreds of thousands of dollars.
For example, Ruiz said, the company recently conducted data retrieval for infrastructure inspection of power lines along the Mogollon Rim for the Navopache Electric Co-Op Inc. in Arizona and found a heavily damaged insulator on a pole deep in the canyon.
“Quickly identifying and fixing that problem before the insulator failed saved the utility damages and repairs that easily could have run into the six figures,” he said.
Information provided to clients can range from paper topographical maps to highly encrypted data on thumb drives. The company is working to allow secure access to data through its website as well.
“We made a point of setting up our processes and systems in such a way that we can transfer data sets in whatever means the client chooses,” said Goertz. “For utilities in particular, data security is a high priority.”
Skynetwest data specialists are looking forward to ongoing developments in UAS technology that will allow the company to offer even more comprehensive views to its clients, including multispectral systems with sensors that will enable drone systems to “see” behind the object being inspected.
As these innovations become available, Skynetwest plans to be on the forefront of their use.
“Our big picture goal is that we want to set the new standards for collecting and digitizing information for mapping and infrastructure,” said Ruiz. “We’ve only just scratched the surface for the potential. We are establishing a means for engineers and builders to have a clearer view of their world.”
To learn more about Skynetwest, go to skynetwest.com.