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15-04-2021

A course to use your drone? We teach all you need to know

Written by Karst Beens

Controlling a drone (ROVs) is very easy! But getting the right images from working with an underwater drone still proves difficult. So how can our clients be prepared to handle the drones properly, in order to get the best possible results for themselves? We offer a course to do this in advance. You can read what the course entails in an interview with Rob van der Heijden, the man of the courses at H2O Drones!

A short intro about Rob himself: Rob started the ‘test program underwater drones’ within ‘Rijkswaterstaat’ together with Karst Beens H2O Drones and recently finished it successfully. With the start of the test program H2O Drones got its shape accelerated.

Rijkswaterstaat is the Dutch agency that provides safety, security, accessibility and attractivity. And could be described as the ministery of waterways and infrastructure.

Besides underwater drones he is also working on other types of drones, including flying drones. Rob works primarily at the Rijkswaterstaat and is partly self-employed, also in the field of ROVs/underwater drones. Now he supports us with the courses he gives!

In this interview you will read about our experience, the content of the courses we offer, tips we can already give you and much more! We have put this down on paper as best as possible, so you can read the interview again.

Let’s start with an introduction! Can you tell something about yourself Rob?

“I am Rob van der Heijden, I have been gaining experience in the world of different types of underwater drones for 4-5 years. I regularly encountered situations where an underwater view was important. I tried many options but they turned out to be half done, with unstable results. There simply had to be a better way! That’s how I naturally ended up with ROVs, specifically portable underwater drones.”

Okay, what process did you go through (in those 4-5 years) to end up with these products?

“There were many developments in the field of drones and AI (Artificial Intelligence). During the research and in the preparation of the test program I met Karst Beens, who himself was looking for a company in a new market. From the beginning, we shared a vision of the future for underwater drones, and we started working together to bring together the overlap in our vision and to give substance to the test program.

There was interest in underwater drones everywhere but no one who really wanted to take the lead or a party in the market who could implement the test program. “The real deployment of underwater drones started in the test program within Rijkswaterstaat, where I have now been able to open many eyes.”

Nice, how did you show the potential of ROVs at Rijkswaterstaat, make sure it became an ‘eye-opener’?

“Rijkswaterstaat mainly works with divers to do inspections. Also in potentially dangerous situations for the diver. About 40% of the assets of  Rijkswaterstaat are (partly) under water. To know how things stand they have to be inspected regularly. For example, inspecting with current or at drug dumps can be very dangerous. These contain a lot of chemicals and can be very dangerous for a diver. Avoiding risks was a key point for Rijkswaterstaat anyway, and how? Via underwater drones.”

Can you tell us about your work are at H2O Drones?

“I do inspections that have no relation to Rijkswaterstaat, because of possible conflicts of interest. For example, I did inspections at Shell (Rheinland) in Germany, and was able to do some small jobs on the side.

And so I also had the necessary experiences, including less pleasant ones: in Germany I once made a big mistake. I thought I was in a canal that we had been working in all day, but the dimensions were just different and I got stuck. This was absolutely not nice for the customer, nor for me personally. Eventually, after many attempts, we were able to get the drone out again, but it had quite a bit of damage. Of course, these are risks that you don’t want to take, but they can happen, and I won’t make mistakes like that again. In hindsight a very good learning moment.”

I am not the only one who has damaged a drone at times, there are many more stories like this. For example, one of our drones was hit by a ship. This one was fortunately still repairable.

This was ‘new learning’ for us in training and lots of practice.”

So this is also the course offered by H2O Drones?

“Yes, I have been asked by H2O Drones to organize training sessions for their customers.”

What can you tell us about the course? Starting with the structure of the courses?

“We start with what you need to know, what you need to see and how it can be done. Then we move on to launching the drone. So of course you can’t see the drone when it’s underwater, so you have to learn to trust the instruments and be able to deal with this. Especially learning to look at e.g. the sonar, a digital image, is difficult. In one day I explain a lot, but I also let people practice. With more hours you get better at this. It is really practicing, practicing and practicing again.

-This is not only true with underwater drones, I have also noticed this with flying drones, for example. There you also have to practice a lot to get the (right) feel.-.

There is also a bit of technology involved, how does the drone itself work? How does the sonar work? What is possible and what is not (yet) possible?

The maintenance part is also important. For example, cleaning and what you should do in case of error messages? What happens if something gets into a propeller?

The answers to these are easy, but you have to know them.”

Do you have tips for using a drone?

“In certain inspections you can change a bit about the weight, for example you can make the normally neutral weight distribution of the drone positive or negative.

For example in a ship inspection it is easy if the drone is too heavy, and automatically drifts slowly downwards. By counterbalancing with the motors you get a current at the bottom of the drone. If you do this the other way around and the drone is too light, you will get flow at the top, where you are doing the inspection. This can cause dust and debris on the hull of the vessel to come loose and obstruct the view. With bottom inspections, it’s actually exactly the other way around, then you want to make sure that you don’t bring up dust and dirt from the bottom and causing this to create a cloudy image.

Among drones, what is most underestimated?

What is most underestimated is still the launching of the drone and not knowing where the drone is then, and which way it is looking.
For that I learn to navigate with the sonar on landmarks.

Of course, there are tools that can make it easier, like a GPS that work with hydrophones. This works with sound, acoustic sensors. The problem with this, though, is that with disturbances in the water, a new situation has started, and this can interfere with the positioning. So this is ideal in quiet places, where there are no animals or boats. Disturbances make this difficult to use.”

What are the most frequently asked questions? (FAQ)

  • “How do I know where my underwaterrobot is?”
  • “How can I use the sonar? In relation to distances and reading the data”
  • “Where should I pay close attention to regarding maintenance?”

Example: “Can a fishing line (line) cause damage if it enters the motor of the ROV?” No, due to the magnetic overbranning it won’t hurt. The motors demand more current if there is something in between and you will get error message in the picture because too much current is demanded. But because of the magnetic overbranning, it doesn’t directly hurt, you just know you have to pause the inspection for a moment to clear the drive again.”

So there are few questions about the controller, does this look like a game controller?

“Yes, in a way. You do have to learn the difference between the way you use the controller. This is about getting the best visuals, not sailing the fastest. With the game controllers, you have to press different buttons for different games. You have the same thing with drones. A different drone may have different functions, so you control this with different buttons.

This part I do explain in theory, but we mainly carry out in practice.”

What is a common mistake when controlling drones?

“Being nervous or controlling too much: always wanting to correct everything to perfection. A small movement under water continues for a while after you have performed the action. It’s always like that underwater. There is no delay in the control but the underwater drone itself continues to move, just like a car when you let off the gas and still keep driving. In addition, you also have currents to deal with during your inspection.

Some people are better at this than others, but in practice I can always see this quickly and, if necessary, continue to direct people.”

So do you see that certain groups of people are better at this?

“I think young people master the controls a little faster. Indeed because they have grown up with gaming and the controls in more modern times. They often get the controls of the joysticks and the controller in general faster.

-This I also see with flying drones, sometimes there are children that can already fly better than me, simply because they have learned this feeling from games.-”

So is it wise to put only younger people on the course, or to send more experienced workers here as well?

“I think a mix is good, generally I come across 2 types that can complement each other:

  • Those who are very good with the drone but don’t know exactly what to see and what they are looking for
  • Those who are less able to handle the drone but know exactly what they are looking for.

Here I often see an age difference, the somewhat younger people I train are better with the drone, but the more experienced workers know exactly what to get in the picture.

Therefore, a mix of these seems ideal to me. Often you inspect with 2 people, this is much easier. Then you can combine forces. How this is done can differ for everyone, but if you want to get better, you have to practice a lot and gain experience. Even after 3 years of practice I notice that I perform certain actions more easily now than a year ago.”

In closing, can you say a few words about H2O Drones?

“I think H2O Drones has a good customer focus and they can certainly find new solutions in this new market. They know very well what the equipment can and cannot do. They have deliberately chosen quality with Deep Trekker, they really deliver one of the best drones in the world now.”

Top! Thanks! Do you have anything extra to add yourself? Something that is important but hasn’t been addressed yet?

“H2O Drones has performed a number of inspections where it was not clear beforehand what would come out of it. For example, during the test programme of the Rijkswaterstaat, they performed a pre-dive inspection. There they had to check a weir, whether it was still in place. These are bulkheads about 2.5 meters wide. Two empty barges had collided with some of the weir’s bulkheads. As a result, it was not clear whether the bulkheads were still on the so-called yokes. If they were half off, there is extra current, which can be a risk to the diver.

The inspection showed that all the bulkheads were still on the yokes, but some of the yokes were crooked. They had not fallen off or been damaged, but some were crooked. This meant that it was safe for the diver to inspect, and thus more certainty had been achieved.

In another inspection, our cable was stuck around steel pins on the bottom. This was annoying, but if a diver had swum into these instead of our drone it could have had nasty consequences.

We even lost a drone once due to circumstances at a weir where the drone was sucked into an erosion hole and there was nothing we could do about it. They wanted to send a diver down there in a cage. It’s a good thing we didn’t do that, because the strong current meant that we couldn’t even get our underwater drone out of there. We don’t know what would have happened if a diver had gone down here. It’s better to lose a drone here than a human life.

In the situations where we lost a drone you could have basically lost a diver. Anyone can make a mistake, but you can weigh up the risks. Above water you cannot oversee what is happening under water, many divers can also confirm that the situation was different than they had imagined. This can largely be addressed with a scan prior to a dive (or a full inspection with a drone).”

In closing, we would like to thank Rob very much for the interview! Through his extensive stories and good answers, a lot has become clear. Now everyone has a good idea about the courses and the experiences that come with them. Even our employees were able to learn something from this!


Curious? Then contact us now here for any questions!

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