Shell, DJI Partner To Develop Drone Inspection Technology

Shell uses the DJI M300 RTK quadcopter at its Deer Park, Texas, oil refinery and chemical plant.
Credit: DJI

Shell Oil Co. and drone manufacturer DJI announced a partnership on Aug. 25 to develop new methods for industrial inspections at Shell’s Deer Park Manufacturing Complex in Texas.

The companies will work together to develop advanced features such as an “AI Spot-Check” tool that combines visual machine learning capability with real-time kinematics (RTK). An RTK system corrects a drone’s GPS position as it flies with a known secondary position reference on the ground to produce centimeter-level position data.

“Shell Deer Park is excited to become a Solution Development Partner with DJI as we continue to adopt drone technology,” said John McClain, Shell chief drone pilot. “Through this partnership, Shell Deer Park will have access to some of the most advanced drone technology from DJI to help elevate workplace safety and improve efficiency across our operations in the world’s largest industry.”

Shell started using DJI’s consumer-grade Phantom 4 and higher-end Inspire 1 quadcopters at the Deer Park complex, an oil refinery and chemical plant located 20 mi. east of Houston, in 2016. The company’s drone fleet now has DJI commercial models including the Matrice 300 (M300) RTK with Zenmuse H20 multisensor payload.

The forward-fitted H20 payload is configured with wide and zoom cameras and an integrated laser rangefinder that measures distance to 1,200 m (3,937 ft.). Shell is using the M300 and H20 to conduct automated inspections of critical infrastructure that can be difficult to assess from ground level, such as flare tips and floating roof tanks—open-topped cylindrical structures used to store oil.

“Shell has provided us with valuable insight into the unique challenges of conducting aerial inspections at one of its largest facilities, where infrastructure exceeds the height of 250 ft. off the ground,” said Cynthia Huang, DJI director of business development. 

“Through our collaboration, DJI will receive valuable firsthand insight into the complexities of deploying drone technology at a world-class refinery, and co-develop new product features like AI Spot-Check that will allow Shell and other innovative energy companies to use drones to safely and easily conduct required inspections of critical infrastructure.”

Bill Carey

Bill covers business aviation and advanced air mobility for Aviation Week Network. A former newspaper reporter, he has also covered the airline industry, military aviation, commercial space and unmanned aircraft systems. He is the author of 'Enter The Drones, The FAA and UAVs in America,' published in 2016.