The UniversalUAV Civil Drone for AI-boosted Methane Gas Inspections

The overall objective of the sub-project is to show the applicability of an AI-boosted gas camera system, operated from a fixed-wing drone, to detect methane gas leakages. A further objective is to enable effective long range inspection of gas pipelines (methane, CO, CO2; hydrogen) and other gas facilities in follow-on steps. These objectives will be achieved through the following sub-objectives:

  • Sub-objective 1: Gather end use-case requirements to define the target operating regime of the drone service, e.g., length of pipeline to be inspected, methane leakage flow rate threshold…
  • Sub-objective 2: Improve the accuracy of methane gas detection. KPI: methane detection threshold mdt=0.01kg/h.
  • Sub-objective 3: Improve flight-path optimisation approach. KPI: Minimum detectable gas plume size d=10cm.
  • Sub-objective 4: Demonstrate concurrent operation of the drone flight and methane detection. KPI: 1 gas leakage successfully detected at flight speed of v=100 km/h.

Responsible organisation

Challenges and how they will be addressed

The emission of methane gas due to leakages is a major threat to the atmosphere worldwide. The detection of methane gas leakages is difficult and only detectable by specialised gas cameras. But even the gas cameras available on the market have problems with atmospheric clutter, or in the case that the methane gas is surrounded by other gases such as CO2 or hydrogen. This challenge can be overcome by applying AI software that is able to actively filter-off disturbing optical effects and enhance the visibility of the gas plume. SI’s Canadian cooperation partner Perspectum Drone Inspection Inc. has developed such applications, suitable for copter drones. Using it in fixed-wing drones requires a further AI adaption to suppress the clutter effects at higher speeds. The fixed-wing drone flight patterns must be additionally optimized to facilitate an easy detection of gas leakages in pipelines, gas facilities and refineries. This shall be shown with detection test flights in Germany where an artificial methane gas source is placed on the testing ground.

Tech components and data

Electric drone 25kg class, ground control station, OGI gimbal gas camera, AI software for real time video postprocessing, video&geo reference data.

Expected outcomes

Optimized drone/gas sensor system to detect methane gas leakages with low concentrations and small (plume) sizes.


AIM universal test vehicle
AIM future inspection flights
AIM AI-boosted picture of methane gas leakage.
© Perspectum Drone Inspection Inc. (PDI)

For 30 years SI is engaged in the development of aerospace projects in the fields of General Aviation, Mission Aircraft and Unmanned Aerial Systems. Within their UniversalUAV Project SI develops a family of drones of different sizes which range from 25kg class electrical drones through 200kg+ piston engine driven long range drones. All drones are built in-houes including a generic ground station for command&control as well as systems data transmission.

Drone Stakeholders survey (e.g. Drone manufacturers, Drone service providers, Software developers)

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