SharperShape launches long-distance drone Next Eagle to scan forests even further

Well over a year ago we wrote a story on Sharpershape, the Finnish start-up company whose army of laser equipped drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) as they’re officially called, are scanning Finnish forests from the air in order to scout optimal pathways for power line constructions and maintenance.

Now the company has come forth with exiting news, both for them and the rest of Finland’s drone industry.

When the original article came out, Sharpershape’s rather exceptional field of work was still young and mainly under testing: the company was eagerly looking for funding, and their drones’ work was largely supported by Helicopter assistance and their full functional potential was somewhat restricted by aerial regulations. Since then, the financial needs of the start-up were quenched after establishing two major contracts, one with Finnish power utility PKS Sahkonsiirto Oy and the other with the European Space Agency. That, however, is hardly the company’s big news.

They’ve announced reaching a major milestone: Sharpershape was granted permission for advanced large-scale long distance UAV flights from the local civil aviation authority of Finland. The approved drone, along with its new equipment, will be named the Next Eagle (badass!).

It might just sound like getting permission over some minor legal technicality (which it pretty much is), but it is a crucial permission that could help the company grow substantially in the near future, namely by making their services even more attractive for potential clients.

“This is an important milestone for us – and for the UAV industry as a whole – as it enables more efficient operations and more applications. The limitations to restrict the flights only to Visual Line Of Sight (VLOS) prevented many important UAV applications, including surveys of large areas, inspections over thousands of miles of pipeline, and many security applications. Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS) operations will unblock all these opportunities. We expect other civil aviation authorities to follow the lead and to increasingly enable BVLOS operations for companies, which focus on aviation safety and have built both their technology and processes to the highest safety requirements”, said Tero Heinonen, the founder of Sharper Shape.

In practice, what the Next Eagle will be able to do thanks to the BVLOS permission is increase its payload, or in other words, carry more sensor equipment that will allow the drone to serve a broader variety of purposes during its flight. That means more simultaneous maintenance planning, vegetation management, quality assurance and fire risk analysis for example, which in turn translates as extensive savings in money otherwise spent on helicopter flights.

However, this does not mean helicopters are already completely unnecessary: according to SharperShape Project Manager Ekaterina Sukhova, Helicopter will still be used for production deliveries for at least this year and the next one since regulations are still under the question, so in that sense things haven’t changed much. Once the manned ‘copters are out the picture though, utilities spendings for power lines are expected to go down by as much as 50-70%, making the extensive testing period well worth the while.

And there are many who eagerly wait for SharperShape’s state of the art drone technology to patrol their power lines. The company has attracted a good deal of attention from around the world, namely in the US, Germany, France and Scandinavia, all countries where SharperShape pilots are currently being prepared. And it’s not just power lines who could benefit from aerial, drone-made analysis’, oil and gas pipelines, railways, and forests could equally find cost-cutting uses for the Next Eagle.

“Sharper Shape’s offering helps utilities to have increased control on their asset infrastructure, drastically improving the cost efficiency and electricity supply security, and also to limit the length of power outages”, Heinonen said.

SharperShape was created with a year’s collaboration between major Finnish utility companies and a devoted group of engineers. Check out the video below if you want to see the Eagle itself in action.