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article imageGE begins testing drones to inspect refineries and factories

By Karen Graham     Jun 13, 2017 in Technology
Berlin - General Electric Company has begun testing autonomous drones and robotic crawlers to inspect facilities and infrastructure in a number of sectors, with the hope of getting a piece of the $40 billion companies spend annually for inspections worldwide.
Alex Tepper, the head of business development at Avitas Systems, a startup GE formed for this business, told Reuters GE is expected to announce the new business today at a press conference in Berlin, Germany. The new company will focus on the oil and gas industry, transportation and power sectors.
The new company is an offshoot of GE Ventures, an incubator for new ideas that invests in startups. Avitas Systems will use robotics, artificial intelligence and predictive analytics to take inspection services to a new level of industry excellence and safety, sending robotic crawlers and drones into areas too dangerous for humans to inspect, according to GE Reports.
Harriet Green  General Manager Watson IoT  Customer Engagement and Education  IBM; and Guido Jouret ...
Harriet Green, General Manager Watson IoT, Customer Engagement and Education, IBM; and Guido Jouret, Chief Digital Officer, ABB, discuss the future of cognitive and industrial machines.
General Electric is not the first company to combine artificial intelligence with robots in inspecting industrial facilities. IBM Corp. has its Watson artificial intelligence platform and has been working on systems connected to Watson for about a year, now. On April 25, 2017, IBM announced it was partnering with Swedish-Swiss conglomerate, ABB Ltd. to combine IBM's Watson for visual inspections with ABB robots.
IBM tested for defects on assembly lines in China and Taiwan, coupling cameras to Watson so they can recognize defects in electronic components. Other projects include acoustic sensors, or training Watson-enabled drones to spot frayed power lines on remote electrical towers.
"This is one of the hottest areas within IoT (Internet of Things) manufacturing," said Bret Greenstein, vice president of IBM Watson internet of things. He declined to cite a potential market size.
This robotic crawler was used inside one of the failed Fukushima reactor rooms because it was too da...
This robotic crawler was used inside one of the failed Fukushima reactor rooms because it was too dangerous an area for humans to enter.
Tepper said they have already done trials with customers, and aerial drones and robots were able to move around and inside remote or dangerous facilities while photographing corrosion or taking temperature, vibration or gas readings that can be analyzed by computer algorithms and artificial intelligence.
"We know this equipment very well so we can program the robots, regardless of type, to gather the information we need for an inspection," Tepper said. Tepper also says that drones and robots will not replace humans in the workplace, but they will extend their reach and lower costs.
He points out that this technology will also address shifting demographics. This is because many in our aging workforce are retiring, and according to Tepper, many young workers are just not interested in inspection jobs. Now, that's something to think about.
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