03 October 2017 11:05:17 IST

Using sensors and drones to inspect large industrial assets

Chennai-based Detect Technologies has launched products developed at IIT Madras

He talks with the intensity and passion of an industry veteran, but Daniel Raj David, CEO and co-founder, Detect Technologies Pvt Ltd, is just 23 years old, having completed a dual degree in mechanical engineering from Indian Institute of Technology Madras, just five months ago.

Detect Technologies has come out with two products – one a sensor that will work even under high temperatures to detect leaks in oil and gas pipelines and the other a drone fitted with proprietary algorithms to inspect large industrial assets such as boilers.

Both these products, says Daniel, are the result of years of research done at the Centre for Non-Destructive Evaluation, headed by Krishnan Balasubramaniam, at the IIT- Madras. Detect is being incubated at IIT-M’s Incubation Cell.

Trials at Reliance

According to Daniel, the lab had come out with a sensor that worked well even at high temperatures, with which field trials were conducted at Reliance Industries’ Jamnagar refinery.

The sensor worked fine, but some of the peripherals got damaged over time. They decided to keep working on it and in the process built inter-disciplinary teams because they realised that it wasn’t just the sensor that was adding value. Thanks to the multi-speciality team that Detect had, it was able to automate to a great extent the process of interpreting the data generated by the sensors.

They promised their clients that once they helped the company build this product, the clients would no longer have to go to the field. All the data would be available to them on their desktop. “That was value add number two on top of the sensor,” says Daniel. Value add number three came in terms of the cost; the product developed by Detect cost just a sixth of what was available in the international market, according to him. This is because almost everything has been developed in-house.

Detect Technologies has got an intent of purchase for 200 sensors and is in talks with a number of global players in the oil and gas industry. This product – called GUMPS (Guided Ultrasonic Monitoring of Pipe Systems) – was developed after almost five years of lab work.

How does the sensor work? According to Daniel, the sensor is clamped around the pipeline and it works using a concept called guided waves, which send out signals. The guided waves pass through the thickness of a pipe and the signals are reflected. This will help in finding out the exact location and size of the defect.

He is confident that the Centre for Non-Destructive Evaluation will be in the forefront of deploying this product in the Indian market; there are two other international labs involved in building this technology, one in the US and the other in the UK.

Even as they were testing out the sensors, Detect Technologies realised that the companies it was working with had a large number of assets – boilers, furnaces and the like – that needed to be inspected regularly and during shut-downs. They were doing this manually. Detect wondered why the companies were not using drones to inspect these assets. The companies cited safety issues – the drones had to be manually operated and GPS came with an error of 2-20 m.

As a non-destructive testing (NDT) company, Detect realised it was better placed to provide this service rather than drone companies doing it. Daniel and the other founders – Krishnan Balasubramaniam, Tarun Mishra, Harikrishnan AS and Karthik R – spent some time understanding the problems and the requirements. “We wanted to figure out the market fit and then start building the product,” says Daniel.

According to him, Detect completely automated the drone flight and made it GPS-independent. It is dependent on a system called IPS (Indoor Positioning System), thanks to which the drone can be used to inspect both the external surface and the insides of a furnace or a boiler. Instead of giving the client a video of the drone’s test results, Detect automated the analysis.


Detect gets the drones built outside, but its value addition comes in the form of the algorithms and the data processing. This product – Noctuva, which is Latin for owl – hit the market in a drone-as-a-service model and has been sold to the large petroleum companies, including Reliance, IOCL, BPCL, HPCL and other process industries such as Coromandel Fertilizers.

Detect, which raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Keiretsu Forum Chennai chapter, Axilor Ventures and CIIE of IIM Ahmedabad in July, has a 40-member inter-disciplinary team, most of them who have either graduated from IIT Madras or are studying there.

Daniel is confident that Detect will not stop with two products. It will seek to expand the scope and the market for both GUMPS and Noctuva, but also identify niche problem areas and address those.

(The article first appeared in The Hindu BusinessLine.)