Digital twins: A revolution for site inspection efficiency

Technology

The telecom industry has been digitalising its assets for several years now, using the process to gain insights into telecom networks and the related infrastructure. But it is only in recent years, with the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI), that the concept of a digital twin has really begun to see rapid adoption.
“Five years ago, the industry started to begin digitalising their assets, but the main reason why it is now more important than ever is that we are enhancing these digital twins with AI so that they can do things on our behalf…

The telecom industry has been digitalising its assets for several years now, using the process to gain insights into telecom networks and the related infrastructure. But it is only in recent years, with the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI), that the concept of a digital twin has really begun to see rapid adoption.

“Five years ago, the industry started to begin digitalising their assets, but the main reason why it is now more important than ever is that we are enhancing these digital twins with AI so that they can do things on our behalf,” explained Pix4D’s Business Strategy Manager, Pablo Santos Fernandez.

A major part of the motivation for digital twinning in the telecoms industry is the sheer scale of their infrastructure. Many operators have networks spanning hundreds of miles, with thousands of sites in need of maintenance and operation. Digitalising these assets is vital for effective network management, but the process of doing so can be time-consuming and expensive.

“Consider that you don’t just have one bridge or ten buildings in your portfolio – it is more likely you have 70,000 rooftops and 30,000 cell towers and you need to digitalise all of them in a period of time that makes sense,” said Fernandez.

Digitalising a single mobile tower, for example, requires between 2,000 and 2,500 images. These images are typically taken by a drone, a process that can take around four hours. As a result, the digitalisation process for an entire network can take thousands of hours.

For Pix4D, developing a solution to this problem meant refining the image capture process itself.

“We reduced the number of images needed to just 250 images on average,” Fernandez explained. “This means that instead of flying your drone for four hours, you can just do it in 20 minutes.”

The 250 images needed must be captured in a very specific order to create an overlapping, holistic picture that can be used for a digital twin. This precision is at the heart of the Pix4Dscan solution, which allows anyone to pilot the drone to capture the required images even if they do not have a background in drone piloting or photogrammetry.

“On an iPad, in just a few taps, the drone can be made to perform the flight in the required way to build an AI-powered digital twin,” said Fernandez. “The message here is: be the pilot. Anyone can be the pilot. In 20 minutes, you can scan a place without having photogrammetric knowledge.”

Once the data has been gathered, Pix4D’s sister solution, Pix4Dinspect, can build the 3D model and incorporate AI immediately.

“After just 20 minutes of scanning and an hour’s processing, you can have a digital replica that will tell you automatically what equipment is installed on the cell tower – you have an automatic inventory. The twin will also display valuable information about the antennas, like the altitude, the azimuth, and the downtilt, as well as images from beneath the antenna, showing the coaxial entries,” Fernandez said. “You’ll be able to perform an inspection faster than ever.”

As networks continue to grow larger and more complex, especially with the advent of 5G, site inspection efficiency will become more and more vital. Operators must capitalise on the latest advances in drone and digital twinning technology if they want to effectively manage their infrastructure.

Our complete interview with Pix4D’s Pablo Santos Fernandez is available from the link above. If you want to know more about Pix4Dscan and Pix4Dinspect telecom solutions, visit www.pix4d.com/inspection

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