The debut of the Interview Series for the GSH Journal features one-to-one conversations with scientists to help connect individuals in the fast-paced, global buisness of geoscience.We will learn about the people that drive science, the science that inspires people, and the constant machine of progress. These interviews allow the reader to enrich their own careers with examples from others experiences. Each conversation will offer a deeper understanding regarding applications of geosciences, different perspectives to enhance an individual's own work, or new information surrounding traditional or inventive methods. We hope you enjoy the interviews to come.
Industry Expert Interview Series: Keaton Denzer
Drone technology is incredibly interesting and limitless is the uses there are in the industries. Recently I met Keaton Denzer, Bechtel's Chief UAS Pilot, at a STEM Outreach event and discovered an enthusiastic, young professional for drone application in science. As we talked, I could easily see that the sky is the limit on where drone technology is currently being used and applied. Let's get to know Keaton and drone technology.
Rene’: What is your educational foundation that led you into drone technology?
Keaton: My educational background is in Geology; I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Geology from Tarleton State University and my Masters in Geology from the University of Houston (UH). I wrote a two-part thesis at UH, one involving a subsurface analysis of the Dongying Depression, Bohai Bay Basin in northeast China. The other half of my thesis was about how we could use drone technology and photogrammetry to create large-scale high-resolution models to be put into a video game-like simulation that students could then walk on and learn both basic and advanced geology.
Rene’: I think that drone technology is gaining traction in many industries, military and home use, how did you get interested in drones?
Keaton: Drone technology is growing and progressing at exponential rates. These advancements enable drones to go to new heights and be used in new and different industries. There are several sensors that have been developed for drones: Lidar, thermal, multispectral, and hyperspectral. None of these sensors are new, but they had to be made more compact to be used on drones.
I began using drones in my thesis by chance. My advisor at UH, Dr. Jonny Wu, asked if I would take on a project using drones. Although a two-part thesis is not very common for a Masters student, I decided to take on the project because I knew the technology. The knowledge on drones I gained from work during my master's, combined with my understanding of all things GIS and remote sensing made me uniquely positioned for at the job of Bechtel’s Chief UAS Pilot.
Rene’: Do you pilot for Bechtel?
Keaton: We use drones at Bechtel because they add value to our delivery to our customers. As the Chief UAS Pilot for Bechtel, I have several responsibilities: survey planning and flying, jobsite training, keeping our fleet as advanced and innovative as possible, and making sure our processing software is the best it can be. Because of the global reach of Bechtel and how often we fly drones on our sites I cannot plan and fly every survey on all of our jobsites; therefore, it is my job to do the initial planning and flights and then train colleagues on jobsites to fly the weekly flights as part of their daily duties.
Rene’: How many pilots are in your group?
Keaton: We have over a dozen pilots throughout Bechtel and our numbers are growing rapidly as the number of our projects grow.
Rene’: In a conversation earlier, electromagnetics (E&M) was mentioned as a budding technology for Bechtel. Can you elaborate on E&M in the way that Bechtel plans on deploying the technology.
Keaton: We always explore new and innovative technologies that can enhance our delivery to customers, and make our jobsites safer and more efficient. One of the new technologies we are exploring is using a series of sensors (electromagnetic, magnetic, and thermal) to identify subsurface piping and cables. Traditional methods such as GPR are used by ground crews walking the entire area pushing a sensor, a slow and tedious process. Some groups have attempted to put GPR on drones but because of its size there are significant limitations. The electromagnetic sensor is of particular interest to us because of its accuracy and ability to penetrate the ground up to a few meters. Then a team of geophysicists take the data and can locate underground assets we need to find.
Rene’: Is Bechtel using or planning to use drones in Mining and Nuclear divisions?
Keaton: We use drones across our businesses. I am extremely excited about the future and the innovations our teams are exploring. We are looking at aerial lidar and using the generated point clouds for asset detection and volumetric calculations. There are several companies that have created slam-based lidar that can be used on drones to not only generate accurate point clouds, but to also fly itself using the point cloud into unsafe environments, where it can collect data to help us keep our colleagues safe.
Rene’: What would you recommend to a young professional if they are interested in drone technology?
Keaton: Drone technology is a very exciting and growing profession. The technology allows remote locations to be easily accessible, enables cutting costs on projects, and improves safety. Deploying drones enables collecting data with scientific precision, then sharing it on cloud servers to be accessible from any location with an internet connection. Such innovations provided by drones offer quality output and smiles on the job where pilots can go to isolated areas without leaving terra firma: truly the sky is the limit!