TOKYO -- Sohgo Security Services, or Alsok, is the latest Japanese company to find a commercial application for unmanned aircraft.
As early as next month, Alsok will launch a service offering periodic inspections at megasolar plants, using drones to check for problems with solar panels from above.
When a solar panel at a huge solar power plant malfunctions and generates less electricity, the increased electrical resistance makes it heat up. Warm spots will be revealed by an unmanned aerial vehicle equipped with cameras and infrared sensors that transmits images and thermographs to the ground. The drones will follow routes programmed in advance.
A 2,000kW-class megasolar plant has more than 8,000 solar panels installed across some 30,000 sq. meters. Walking around with hand-held meters to test each panel takes days. A drone can finish the job in just 15 minutes.
Such aerial inspection can be done by a human piloting a small plane but costs 1.5 million yen ($14,000) a flight. Alsok intends to offer its service at a fifth of that price. The company will start taking orders in October and hopes to ink 400 to 500 contracts over the next three to five years.
Alsok also plans to use drones in a similar service identifying damaged turbine blades at wind farms.
Other Japanese businesses are finding their own uses for drones.
Security company Secom plans to introduce them later this fiscal year to track and photograph unauthorized vehicles detected entering large commercial facilities after business hours.
Engineering giant Chiyoda is thinking about putting drones to work in managing the materials used to construct huge oil and gas plants. The materials are spread out, with guards stationed to prevent loss and theft. Through attaching smart tags to the materials and checking their whereabouts using radio signals from a hovering drone, the number of guards can be reduced.