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Real-time imagery of roads

Drone project will assess McKenzie County gravel roads after rain

Submitted Photo From the left are Ryan Moriearty, ISight assistant chief pilot; Shane Roberts, co-developer, hybrid drone; and Adam Overvold, Isight chief pilot who was named this month the site manager for the Watford City office. They are part of the ISight RPV Services team involved in a project to use drones to assess gravel roads following rain events in McKenzie County.

WATFORD CITY – A project using drones to assess gravel roads following rain events will begin in McKenzie County this spring.

In January, the McKenzie County Commission voted unanimously to award ISight RPV Services of Grand Forks funding to provide the drone assessments that will give commissioners real-time imagery of road conditions to support open/closure decisions on gravel roads.

“In western North Dakota closing of gravel roads can have major economic impacts not only for the county but for the oil companies that work there,” said ISight CEO Tommy Kenville in a news release. “Our project will collect the data commissioners need to make informed decisions on road closures. We’re thankful to the commission for trusting ISight with such an important project and we’re excited to assist in keeping the economic pulse of the county running when rain threatens to shut everything down.”

“McKenzie County is looking forward to the information ISight will provide to assist us in making road decisions,” said Commission Chairman Tom McCabe. “Just one day of road closures has economic impacts for the county. We’re looking forward to working with ISight on this pilot project.”

About ISight RPV

Headquartered in Grand Forks, ISight RPV Services provides remotely piloted vehicle (RPV) operations to agricultural, critical infrastructure, wildlife management, insurance, and emergency services clients. Data is collected with the unmanned aircraft.

Kenville, has over 25 years in aviation-related experience, including 15 years at the University of North Dakota Aerospace Foundation and founding of the Unmanned Applications Institute, the first institute for research, testing and consulting in the emerging unmanned aerial vehicle industry in North Dakota, founded in 2010, prior to merging with ISight in 2016.

Pilots and operators who will be utilized in accomplishing the work in McKenzie County have a wide range of experience in unmanned aerial systems and commercial aviation.

The two-phase project in Watford City is to begin this spring with initial flights recording baseline data.

When rain events occur this summer, ISight will conduct flights within visual line of sight to collect images of road conditions so commissioners can make decisions on road open/closures. Phase one will conclude in about November. Phase two will continue to collect data after rain events in the spring and summer of 2021, with plans to use beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) infrastructure, if available.

Expected results

“By capturing information in real time and documenting it, the county can have a long-term history of the roads in question and to determine what, if any, remediation and repair has to be done following use,” said Kenville in his proposal to the McKenzie County Commission. “This will allow the county to have long-term data and information on most gravel roads within the county to support efforts by McKenzie to change the formula by which Gross Production Taxes (GPT) are shared between the state of North Dakota and the counties in which the oil wells are located. This would allow McKenzie County the opportunity to improve the roads that they need.”

Total cost of the project for the county is projected to be $100,000 for two years of data collection, according to Kenville’s proposal. ISight’s share of the project is $225,000.

ISight will be the lead on the project. Other partners include Sentera (phase 1 drone), Hybrid Project (gas-powered drone for BVLOS flights), KSI for real time video integration, Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute for civil engineering and data storage, Western Dakota Energy Association who will ultimately store and analyze data, LoadPass who will integrate data into their automated permit and routing program and the Northern Plains UAS Test Site for BVLOS and GBSAA activities, according to Kenville. GBSAA stands for ground-based sense and avoid.

Techniques to be used

Using both fixed wing and vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) remotely piloted aircraft, ISight will conduct drone flights (all within visual line of sight year one), with accompanying real time video and stills, and push these out in real time to interested parties at the county and industry. ISight will acquire specific aircraft and video distribution hardware to accomplish this. Ideally, ISight would utilize daisy chain procedures to accomplish more coverage while conducting operations in year one, according to the proposal.

(A daisy chain is a wiring strategy where multiple devices are wired together in sequence.)

The proposal also noted that Phase 2 will conduct all flights using beyond visual line of sight, decreasing time to fly roads while increasing data acquisition.

Environmental & economic impacts

When McKenzie County is forced to close gravel roads in order to minimize impact from damage by oil-field traffic, the impact is felt by oil companies and trucking companies (and related service industries) that service the 2,000-plus wells in the counties. It is estimated that 1,000 trucks are idled in impacted counties due to weather-related road closures. The cost estimate is roughly $50 million a day (basinwide), the proposal said.

ISight RPV Services’ purchase of an American-made, gas-powered drone that can stay airborne for five to six hours positions them perfectly to take advantage of the much-anticipated statewide BVLOS network.

In McKenzie County, ISight will open an office staffed with at least four pilots.

Renting space for the office in Watford City is scheduled for April and the project will start with the pilots going to work in May. There will be a rotation of pilots with a site manager.

Adam Overvold, ISight chief pilot was named this month the site manager for the new office in Watford City. Overvold has been with the company from the beginning, more than six years.

ISight RPV also is expanding its business services and locations in eastern North Dakota.

In February, Kenville announced ISight RPV Services acquired Flight Pros, a Fargo-based drone company specializing in aerial site mapping, 3D modeling and high-definition aerial photography and videography. The acquisition of Flight Pros and with Joey Schmit, Flight Pros founder, added to the team, ISight expanded its line-up of business services.

“We look forward to working in and bringing tech jobs to western North Dakota,” said Kenville.

Drone project timetable

May 2020 – Start database of roads; interact with county officials, oil companies and service providers to develop image library of prime roads and priority road.

June 2020 – Begin collecting data via drone for baseline data set. Anticipate completion of baseline data set by end of July. Build data into HIVE data base.

July 2020 – Finalize data set of baseline, supplement with data from LoadPass, Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute (UGPTI) and county officials. Cross reference all data with Western Dakota Energy Association (WDEA) weather station data. Ongoing flights of roads as required due to weather.

August 2020-October 2020 – Ongoing maintenance of data base. Ongoing flights of roads as required due to weather.

November 2020 – Ongoing maintenance of data base. Ongoing flights of roads as required due to weather. Start finalizing year one data base and wrap up with county officials, producers and service providers regarding lessons learned and areas to upgrade.

Late 2020, early 2021 – Secure beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) tech for 2021 with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and North Dakota test site.

May 2021 – Reset and update satellite imagery; fine tune database of roads; interact with county officials, oil companies and service providers to develop image library of prime roads and priority roads.

June 2021 – Begin collecting year two data via drone for baseline data set (augmented by satellite imagery). Anticipate completion of baseline data set by end of July. Build data into HIVE data base.

July 2021 – Finalize data set of baseline, supplement with data from LoadPass, UGPTI and county officials. Cross reference all data with WDEA weather station data. Ongoing flights of roads as required due to weather.

August 2021-October 2021 – Ongoing maintenance of data base. Ongoing flights of roads as required due to weather.

November 2021 – Ongoing maintenance of data base. Ongoing flights of roads as required due to weather. Start finalizing year one data base and wrap up with county officials, producers and service providers regarding lessons learned and areas to upgrade.

Work out with LoadPass or WDEA to implement future collections into current operations for fees with users and oil companies.

– Source: ISight RPV Services

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