5G the catalyst for industrial drone inspections


SkyeBase specialises in inspections of industrial sites with the aid of drones and robots. In the 5G Lab of Orange Belgium in Antwerp, the company discovered what 5G could do for them. 

With the support of the FPS Economy, SMEs, Self-Employed and Energy.



How is 5G deployed? 
Live forwarding of images from industrial drone inspections

Benefits of 5G
Bandwidth, low latency, security

Orange has been present at The Beacon innovation hub in Antwerp since 2018. “As we were rolling out the first 5G standalone campus network in Belgium in the port of Antwerp, partnerships with other businesses at The Beacon allowed us to set up an ecosystem of partners,” says Gert Pauwels, 5G Business Manager at Orange Belgium. In late 2021, Orange opened its first Belgian 5G Lab in Antwerp, followed by a second one in Liège last year.


SkyeBase: on land, at sea and in the air

It was at The Beacon that SkyeBase was introduced to Orange. The scale-up was established in 2020 with the aim of carrying out faster, more efficient and better inspections of industrial sites, tank terminals, container terminals and infrastructure thanks to the use of drones. “Actually the term ‘drone’ is not entirely accurate,” co-founder and CIO of SkyeBase Tom Daniëls explains. “We often refer to them as robotic inspections. They can be carried out airborne, driving or sailing, and even underwater inspections are an option. We recognised the industry needed inspection techniques that were more modern than scaffolds and cranes.”

SkyeBase not only carries out its own inspections but also develops software to support industrial drone inspections. “With I-Spect we have developed a platform that guides inspectors in capturing footage but also helps asset owners visualise and analyse inspection data,” Daniëls continues. “After all, a drone inspection easily involves 150 GB worth of footage.” In addition, SkyeBase has developed AI models that automate the detection of defects on 3D structures such as port cranes and pipelines.


More efficient inspections thanks to 5G

Although the Antwerp scale-up automates its drone and robotic inspections, the process still involves many manual tasks. For instance, an operator flies a drone around a silo to take pictures. When the drone lands, the inspector removes the SD card from the drone and checks the footage on a desktop or laptop. If the report turns out to be incomplete, the drone operator must return to the location.

This can be handled more efficiently. Through discussions with Orange, SkyeBase quickly realised what 5G could do for them. Thanks to 5G standalone, a drone can forward footage instantly. “Back in the day, connectivity was way down on the list of priorities,” Gert Pauwels recalls, “and businesses didn’t come to us until their product was all but finished. But by then it’s often too late to start optimising processes or truly innovate. In our 5G Lab we can help companies like SkyeBase determine early on what 5G can do for them and develop a use case through a form of co-innovation. In this particular case, we were very successful.”


5G standalone gives us the necessary security guarantees.


Tom Daniëls
CIO & Co-Founder SkyeBase

Security guarantees

Together, SkyeBase and Orange applied for government subsidies for a proof of concept of industrial drone inspections using 5G. Following approval of the application this year, the project kicked off in April with the definition of the technical scope. “Our main challenge was in defining the proper architecture to process all those data streams,” says Tom Daniëls. “We aim to guarantee the highest quality, taking into account both end customer requirements and the overall cost. Fortunately, we can rely on Orange’s expertise for this.”

The inspection images are sent live to the cloud where they can be viewed and stored immediately, allowing inspectors to finish their report faster. This requires not only fast and stable data transfer but also the necessary protection, Daniëls emphasises: “These are sensitive images of infrastructure such as container terminals. 5G standalone gives us the necessary security guarantees.”


Experts and AI models

Another aim of the project is to simplify remote communication with experts, Daniëls explains: “Experts can’t always be on site, but a live stream allows them to follow an inspection from a distance and share their knowledge in a secure manner. The 5G standalone network ensures a guaranteed bandwidth, which is crucial for connection reliability. We inspect critical infrastructure in the port and the petrochemical industry, amongst other locations. It is therefore crucial that the expert receives real-time footage, especially when an incident occurs.”

In addition, SkyeBase runs its AI models in the cloud. They detect real-time defects in footage to support inspectors and drone operators, which is why the footage has to be sent from the drone to the cloud as fast as possible. Here, too, 5G standalone offers the necessary bandwidth and low latency.


Ready for expansion

SkyeBase started its activities in Belgium and expanded its inspections to the Netherlands in 2022. Now the company is targeting growth outside the Benelux countries. The architecture that is being developed now as proof of concept must be able to grow alongside the company. “If we ever carry out dozens of simultaneous inspections, we need scalable technology such as 5G and an innovative partner like Orange to support our growth,” Daniëls concludes.


Are you planning your own 5G project and need a test environment? Or would you like to talk to our experts to explore the value of 5G for your business? Discover all the possibilities of 5G standalone.

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