A series of above ground pipelines on a sunny day with blue sky in the background.

Burnaby tech firm seeks to revolutionize safety inspections with its flying robots

Partnering with oil and gas firms, Avestec has created technology that’ll make inspections safer and more accurate around the world.

For years, inspecting hard-to-reach areas on industrial sites has been a challenge. Often the work is time-consuming and sometimes dangerous, with the risk of falls from heights or the lack of oxygen in enclosed spaces. Now Avestec Technologies, a tech company based in Burnaby, British Columbia, says its innovative tethered flying robots could provide an answer.

“Our company’s mission is to employ intelligent robots to do the hard and dangerous inspection jobs,” says Reza Tavakoli, Avestec’s CEO.

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Avestec’s robot drone flies and attaches to the surface targeted for inspection guided from the ground by a tethered cable for continuous operation. The system employs specialized sensors to carry out visual and contact-based inspections to check for minute signs of corrosion. Using proprietary reporting software, measurements are recorded and analyzed in real time to generate intelligent inspection reports. The drones can inspect a wide variety of hard-to-reach industrial spaces—for example, oil storage tanks, offshore platforms, refinery towers and construction cranes.

An image of mechanical equipment
Worker operates Avestec Skyron drone which enables fast, cost-effective and safe inspections of oil and gas equipment. Photo courtesy Avestec.

According to Tavakoli, the technology could represent the breakthrough that’s needed to eliminate human risk for conducting inspections as well as to provide faster, cost-effective, and more accurate data for clients, resulting in better safety and environmental outcomes.

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Thanks to this technology, Avestec is a company to watch in the emerging field of inspection robotics. Recently, in January, it was identified for funding in the Clean Resource Innovation Network (CRIN)’s Digital Oil and Gas Technology Competition (more on this later). CRIN funding is made possible by the federal government’s Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF).

Robotic solution for industrial inspection

Tavakoli says Avestec was formed several years ago, motivated by a desire to find a robotics solution for industrial inspection.

We didn’t want only to develop a cool robot. We wanted to introduce an innovative solution to address industry pains.”

Reza Tavakoli, Avestec’s CEO.

“Clients told me the way inspections were carried out could be hazardous, even dangerous,” Tavakoli says of traditional inspection methods that often involve scaffolding and ropes. “So, we started to look for answers.”

As a first step, Tavakoli and his team reached out to contacts in the mining and energy sectors. Through meetings with Shell and other potential end users, the team asked lots of questions in the search for a solution. This collaborative approach was used to ensure the product addressed industry concerns in different markets.

A headshot of Reza Tavakoli, CEO of Avestec
Avestec CEO Reza Tavakoli was looking for a way to de-risk industrial inspection using modern drone technology. Photo courtesy Avestec.

“We didn’t want only to develop a cool robot. We wanted to introduce an innovative solution to address industry pains. So, early in our technology’s development, we listened carefully to our clients to learn what needed to be developed. The work was a tremendous help in creating a product based on market needs,” Tavakoli says.

At first, the Avestec team considered adapting commercially available drone technology. But soon, prompted by their industry discussions, they realized they needed to push further to create a customized solution. Gradually, the core elements of their technology platform started to take shape, as they added a rotary arm, sensors, proprietary software and other special features.

“We were evolving the product step by step to create an advanced industrial robotics system,” Tavakoli says.

Rapid growth story

Since then, Avestec has come a long way, advancing from a concept to a completely functional robotics product named Skyron. In the past 18 months, Avestec has successfully validated Skyron with many leading asset owners in North America, offshore and onshore, including Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, Imperial Oil and many more.  

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At the same time, Avestec has received significant recognition in the cleantech community. In 2020, Avestec received the award for the best technology of the year from Imperial Oil and the Cleantech Alliance in Seattle.  In early 2021, Avestec received funding support through Sustainable Development Technology Canada’s seed program.

CRIN award provides important validation

On the strength of this growing track record, in January this year, CRIN recognized Avestec by identifying up to $750,000 for further scaleup and adoption of the technology.

Tavakoli says the award comes at a time of expansion for Avestec, which recently moved into a larger office in Burnaby. With the new funding, the company plans to accelerate technology commercialization. At the same time, Tavakoli hopes to expand Avestec’s client portfolio. Already he has received strong interest from various clients, including energy, chemical, mining and power companies across North America, Europe, South America and East Asia. Avestec is a great example of how cleantech created through partnerships with the oil and gas industry can be exported, improving outcomes around the world.

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“The validation we are getting from industry in being recognized by CRIN has been critical. The CRIN selection signals that our technology can play a bold role in Canada’s industrial sectors and maybe to the world.”