How Pix4D’s digital twin solution is enabling tower owners to revolutionise the way data is captured and managed

An interview with the company's Inspection Business Strategy Manager, Pablo Santos Fernández

Pix4Dscan and Pix4Dinspect

Read this article to learn:

  • Who Pix4D are and how their Pix4Dinspect and Pix4Dscan products have been designed for the telecoms sector
  • How Pix4D enables tower owners turn data into actionable intelligence
  • In what ways will digital twins revolutionise the way that tower owners work?
  • What sets Pix4D apart from other solutions in the market

The use of digital twins is very much under the spotlight for the telecom sector. Pix4D is one of the global industry leaders in drone mapping and photogrammetry software solutions and with two products, Pix4Dinspect and Pix4Dscan, developed specifically for the telecoms sector, TowerXchange was interested to catch up with the company to understand what sets them apart from other solution providers in the space. In this interview we spoke to Pix4D’s Inspection Business Strategy Manager, Pablo Santos Fernández to discuss the key use cases of digital twins as well as some of the important decisions to be made when selecting a system.

 

TowerXchange: Please can you introduce Pix4D and its range of products to TowerXchange readers?

Pablo Santos Fernández, Business Strategy Manager, Inspection, Pix4D: Pix4D is the industry leader in professional drone mapping and photogrammetry software solutions. The HQ is in Switzerland, and I work out of our R&D hub in Madrid. We also have offices in Berlin, Denver, Shanghai, and Tokyo. Pix4D specialises in photogrammetry software that enables users to create 3D maps and models of complex and dynamic environments.

 

TowerXchange: What has been your experience in the telecoms space to date?

Pablo Santos Fernández, Business Strategy Manager, Inspection, Pix4D: Pix4D software has been used for several years by the telecom sector and has grown in popularity since our telecom-specific products Pix4Dinspect and Pix4Dscan were launched. For the past three years, we have been talking to telecom corporations to better understand their needs, which has directly shaped our products. With their input, we have created a specialised solution designed to get the best results when mapping cell towers.

 

TowerXchange: The creation of digital twins is something that the tower industry is actively looking at right now with a broad array of solutions on the market. What do you think are some of the most important factors that tower owners need to take into consideration when deciding on the right solution for them?

Pablo Santos Fernández, Business Strategy Manager, Inspection, Pix4D: I believe that although there are many important factors to take into consideration, a telecom tower owner is principally concerned with improving maintenance and safety. Every time work is carried out on a tower, engineers are required to be on-site and usually climb a structure to do their work. Our solutions can make this safer and easier thanks to a digital twin.

How does a digital twin address safety? Firstly, it saves inspectors a climb. A drone flight with Pix4Dscan can take just 20 minutes to gather all the data for a complete inspection, which is the typical battery-life length of a smaller rotary drone. The app has automated telecom inspection flight plans, so the pilot does not need expertise in drone piloting to gather actionable data. These flight plans can be adapted according to the site – if there are obstacles nearby, this information can be inputted to Pix4Dscan and the app will adjust its plan. Immediately, this means that the inspection element of maintenance is made safer and faster. Our models typically need 250 images to create a digital twin, but these photos must be captured in a very specific way in order to create an overlapping, holistic model. This precision is at the heart of the Pix4Dscan, which allows anyone to pilot the drone to capture the images. With just a few taps, the drone can be instructed to fly in the required way to build an AI-powered digital twin. The idea here is simple: anyone can be the pilot.

Secondly, the data is actionable. Pix4Dinspect uses data from Pix4Dscan to generate an intelligent digital twin – an exact replica of reality ingrained with artificial intelligence. After the dedicated cell tower flight, the results are automatically uploaded to Pix4Dinspect. As a cloud-based platform, Pix4Dinspect uses Pix4D’s dedicated servers for processing. The digital twin generated by Pix4Dinspect has automated analysis, where the software identifies antennas and their dimensions, including orientation, size, and azimuth. It also identifies rust and faults. This information can be annotated on Pix4Dinspect and is shareable. This whole process means that maintenance workflows can be planned more efficiently, as quick inspections provide up-to-date details about assets. It saves a climb, keeps teams safer, and shares data that is easily interpreted.

 

TowerXchange: Whilst it’s great to produce a 3D model of a tower, being able to turn that model into actionable intelligence is where the real value lies – how does Pix4D help tower owners do this? How do you integrate the model into existing workflows and systems?

Pablo Santos Fernández, Business Strategy Manager, Inspection, Pix4D: There’s no point in a 3D model if you can’t use or extract data from it. For tower inspections, you’re typically looking at three key elements: the current status of infrastructure, maintenance requirements, and the potential for expansion. Tower owners need to be up-to-date with their assets and track of changes to each one. Pix4Dinspect facilitates this. There is no specialised processing hardware required for tower owners; they can just use standard laptops to inspect their digital twins. This is part of the solution’s value.

The inspection workflow looks a little like this:
– The inspection is carried out, typically in under 30 minutes using Pix4Dscan
– The data is then automatically processed in Pix4Dinspect.
– Finally, the digital twin is available on the platform. We have worked hard on the Master Cameras feature, which calculates the exact number of images required for a complete model. This saves 80% of the time required for image review in the office, already cutting down on time-wasting before the model is even in action.

Now, this is where the value increases: the towers are available to offices around the world. The digital twin not only shows the replica of reality but includes annotations made by engineers and can host a record of planned works. The digitised assets can be viewed on a map to see their locations within a network, and then individually inspected. This means that decisions being made across the company are easily shared and explained. Existing workflows are streamlined, and made more accessible to the wider company without requiring extra work. It’s a genius way of making the process easier for everyone, enhancing the overall value of digitisation.

 

TowerXchange: Where do you see digital twins as being able to revolutionise the way that tower owners work? What do you think are some of the most promising use cases?

Pablo Santos Fernández, Business Strategy Manager, Inspection, Pix4D: I see them being applicable and useful all over the world, especially as they can be used by tower owners with a diverse portfolio. We’ve recently had clients using their digital twins for antenna inspections on telecom towers, as in Cameroon with a company called SkyGrid, and more recently in São Paulo, where SMC Soluções em Engenharia (SMC) used Pix4Dinspect to inspect a rooftop antenna. The software is diverse, which adds to why it is revolutionary. I see it as a global tool, to be used all over the world regardless of whether it is looking at a rooftop, the top of a cell tower, or the entire site.

You need to inspect a site because that is where the information is. Taking photos from the ground is not going to give you the angles or depth of information an aerial inspection would. Digital twins generated with data from Pix4Dscan save engineers an exhausting climb where they have to take notes and manually take photos of the equipment. Previously, we tended to need several different visits to a site for maintenance and adding new material on top of inspections. These trips can be cut down using a digital twin.

For both SkyGrid and SMC, they managed to cut a day’s worth of work down to an hour. For SkyGrid, they were working in an urban area alongside a road. This busy environment can make bringing equipment to the site more difficult, whereas a small rotary drone can perform an inspection and efficiently capture data for a digital twin without obstructing traffic with cranes or trucks. This in turn increases revenues as it makes the process faster, easier, and safer. It requires significantly less safety equipment as well. This is just one example of several, and we regularly share use cases of clients using our software to show just how much it is revolutionizing their work. The versatility of the software is part of why it is revolutionary – it can be used in all sorts of places. This is a promising and exciting development – we’re looking forward to seeing the continued spread of digital twins in the industry.

 

TowerXchange: What sets Pix4D apart from other solutions in the market?

Pablo Santos Fernández, Business Strategy Manager, Inspection, Pix4D: If I went into detail on that, this interview would never end! I’ll try and summarize it in a few features. Firstly, there’s scalable digitalisation. When we talk about digitalisation, we aren’t just referring to digitizing one asset: it’s about the potential for mass digitisation. Tower owners may have anywhere from 10 rooftops and 15 towers to 70,000 rooftops and 30,000 cell towers worldwide. Any company size can use our solution. Pix4Dinspect and Pix4Dscan can create digital twins of thousands of towers and rooftops, encompassing entire company portfolios.

Secondly, our efficiency and technical knowledge make us special. We’ve decreased the number of required images for a complete digital twin to just 250. It used to take between 2,000 and 5,000 images. 250 is a small number but generates enough overlap to have a replica that is then inspected by over 10 algorithms to make information automatically available; this makes the process faster as inspection engineers. It’s a high-density replica with integrated AI: Pix4D is set apart by creating an intelligent digital twin.

Finally, the sheer time savings we offer. We’re empowering users to cut the inspection process from at least a day’s work to under an hour. The investment by telecom tower owners does not require their on-site teams having to learn new information – our solution is designed to be used by people without experience in the industry or even flying drones. That’s the beauty of it. The results are actionable, valuable, and faster.

I think I’ve covered some major features – scalability, technical knowledge, and time savings – that set Pix4D apart from other solutions, but there is so much more. These are just some highlights of the many reasons why our solution is revolutionizing the telecom industry.

 

Flying the drone
Flying the drone: Pix4D

Pix4Dscan interface
Pix4Dscan interfac

Pix4Dinspect. High density 3D model + Artificial Intelligence Pix4Dinspect.

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