(Last Updated On: November 16, 2022)

Nowadays, drone inspections are used in nearly every industry where it is necessary to use visual examinations to support their maintenance processes. Drone inspections allow inspectors to avoid being placed in risky situations by utilizing drones to capture visual data regarding the condition of assets.

Inspection drones are revolutionizing manual inspection procedures, which allows inspectors to accelerate their gathering of inspection data and remove slow manual processes that put the drones in danger.

For instance, examining an unmanned cell tower may require climbing several stories into the air on the tower to examine the guy-wire. Inspecting an industrial boiler by hand could be climbing 50 feet or more up into space to the top of ladders.

However, inspection drones have changed the entire process.

A drone-based inspection company can take an inspection drone either up the tower or through the boiler, recording every visual data required by the inspector for their inspection.

The indoor inspection drone, also known as the Elios 3

In this drone guide for inspections, we’ll give our opinion about the best drones to use for inspections, the purpose of drones for aerial data collection services, drone inspection services, and the advantages of using drones to inspect.

We’ll also explore the various industries that are which are currently using drone assessments to meet their inspection requirements.

The Most Effective Inspection Drones

Top Drones for Inspection
Image Credit: coptrz. com

For inspection drones, choosing the right one will be based on your specific inspection needs.

There isn’t any drone that is the best for inspections, but several different drones are compatible with the conditions under which you intend to conduct inspections.

We’ve listed our top 10 drones for inspections according to the types of inspection tasks they’re designed to perform.

Here’s our list of the top drones to inspect:

  • Flyability’s Elios 3–best inspection drone for internal inspections (boilers, pressure vessels, etc.)
  • DJI’s Matrice 300–best inspection drone for general inspections of exteriors (cell towers or stack exteriors.)
  • DJI Phantom 4 Pro–best inspection drone for roof inspections
  • The H520 from Yuneec–best inspect drone to use for inspections of cell towers.

FLYABILITY’S ELIOS 3–INTERNAL INSPECTIONS (GENERAL)

The Flyability Elios 3 is a harsh indoor inspection drone designed to navigate in tight areas. It is enclosed by a cage and has collision-resistant capabilities, making it a tremendous professional inspection drone to work in tight, difficult-to-reach interior areas.

DJI’S MATRICE 300 – EXTERNAL INSPECTIONS (GENERAL)

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The Matrice 300 is the latest model from DJI’s line of inspection drones for professionals, which is part of the Matrice series. Compatible with various types of payloads, such as premium cameras with outstanding zoom capabilities through DJI’s Zenmuse camera range, The DJI Matrice 300 has been the default drone model for choosing an inspection drone that is suitable for the majority of external inspection requirements.

DJI PHANTOM 4 PRO – ROOF INSPECTIONS

Although Phantom 4 Pro Phantom 4 Pro is an older DJI model, it’s the best choice for a roof inspection drone due to its balance of price and quality. With a camera that features a one” camera with a CMOS sensor, it can capture 20MP stills; with a battery life of 30 minutes and a transmission distance of more than 4 miles, the Phantom 4 Pro is an excellent inspection drone that can collect visual data from roofs.

The YUNEEC H520 is a cell tower inspection program.

Although the Yuneec H520 model is a bit old-fashioned, it’s still among the top options for inspecting cell towers. The H520 was explicitly designed to be used for inspections. It can hold three different models of Yuneec cameras- the E90 and the CGO, and the E50.

With a battery lifespan that lasts nearly an hour and the capability to record video in 4K with 30 frames per second, The H520 is an excellent inspection drone that is ideal for cell towers.

What is a visual Inspection, and why is it important?

A visual inspection is an in-depth, meticulous inspection by your naked eyes of each element in an item.

In most cases, drone inspections are visual inspections with the drone’s camera acting as an inspector’s eyes. With a drone, the visual data is collected and examined in detail in the eyes of the examiner (some reviews can be performed in person as well. However, the thorough inspection that follows after data is taken is the majority of the inspection).

For instance, when checking a cell tower, the inspector would climb up the entire tower, looking for areas that could require maintenance.

To conduct Internal inspections like ones carried out within boilers or pressure vessels, inspectors have to climb up on ropes or construct scaffolding so that they can climb over the boiler’s side and visually take note of every square inch they have a move.

Visual inspections are crucial in ensuring the regular maintenance of the assets of a business. It’s much simpler and less expensive to replace some bolts on the tower rather than construct a new one.

However, visual inspections aren’t only focused on saving you money. They’re also about saving people’s lives.

In pressure vessels, an inspection of the vessel’s visual appearance could reveal potential issues that could result in life-threatening dangers if they’re not taken care of. If the vessel’s maintenance isn’t adequately maintained, it might explode, threatening the lives of those in the vicinity.

Also Read: 10 Best Drone Under $500 Reviews & Buying Guide

Not all DRONE INSPECTIONS are visual.

Although most inspections by drones are visually based, and the drone replaces the inspector’s eyes, drones may also be outfitted with sensors that permit them to conduct different types of inspections. Any sensor that fits onto a UAV can be used in an inspection.

For instance, in agriculture, drones are now equipped with multispectral sensors so that farmers can capture images of their crops in different spectrums. Also, in HVAC inspections, inspectors install thermal cameras on their drones to pinpoint the source of heat leakage out of buildings.

Where do inspections fit into the MAINTENANCE PROCESS?

Drone Maintenance And Repair
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Before we get into how drones can be utilized in visual inspections across different industries, let’s look at how inspections can be integrated into the overall maintenance procedure.

If you are looking after any asset, be it an oil or gas pressure vessel or power line, the same method is used initially you check and then repair (assuming the inspection shows the need for repairs).

Drones aid in the initial stage of inspections. By sending a UAV into an area that could be risky for an individual, such as the chimney or up to a tower for cell phones, inspectors can gather visual data regarding the asset’s condition without exposing themselves to danger.

If an inspector discovers the need for maintenance, regardless of whether the issue is detected using drones or by an alternative method, the repairs must be performed manually.

It’s important to remember that drones are an additional instrument in the inspector’s toolbox. Some inspectors prefer to inspect things with their eyes to ensure an accurate, 3-D evaluation. In other instances, an inspector might use a rope to suspend the inspecting camera on a string and place it in an asset.

And at times, drones are ideal equipment for the job.

What are the Benefits of Drone Inspections

We’ve discussed before the possibility that drone inspections could assist in keeping inspectors secure by eliminating the requirement to be in potentially hazardous situations, including climbing over towers and high scaffolding.

Drone inspections can save businesses a significant amount of cash.

How?

First, remember that inspections are not one step in the maintenance procedure. The next step is the actual maintenance.

However, inspections rarely uncover anything that should be fixed. It’s not unusual to find that only 10-20% of inspections uncover problems that require fixing.

For those situations that need maintenance, an individual must be present in person to correct the issue. (We aren’t yet able to build drones that could operate a screwdriver, turn it around, or carry out the complex operations required to maintain the machine, at least not yet.)

However, most of the time, the inspection doesn’t reveal tasks that need to be completed, which means that a drone could be employed for the entire maintenance process 80 to 90 percent of the time.

What is the significance of this?

Building scaffolding to permit an individual to inspect manually is exceptionally costly. If scaffolding is only constructed in the event of actual maintenance, firms can reduce the cost of maintenance by as much as 80-90%. This could translate into savings of several thousand dollars or even.

The construction of scaffolding can take time. If inspections are conducted manually, usually, a full day is needed to construct scaffolding and another day to take it down; that’s a lot of hours in downtime for the item being examined. In most cases, this time is a significant loss of revenue potential for the business.

Lastly, regardless of whether an inspection needs scaffolding to be completed, reducing how long an inspector is placed in danger by 80-90 percent is considerable savings in the cost of liability insurance.

After we’ve given an outline of the ways drones aid in safety as well as cost savings, let’s look at their main advantages:

  • Risk reduction. Inspectors are no longer required to put themselves in potentially hazardous situations.
  • Savings–temporary structures. Savings due to not having to construct scaffolding or other temporary single-use infrastructure that can be used to support the manual inspection (as appropriate–not all inspections necessitate scaffolding).
  • Savings–downtime. For assets such as reactors for nuclear Energy and pressure vessels that must be shut off before an inspection is conducted, every second that is lost is a loss in revenue. Utilizing drones to help make turnarounds more efficient could result in huge savings for businesses that use this equipment.
  • Savings–liability insurance. Businesses can significantly reduce the time that a person is in risky situations, reducing their insurance cost.
  • Improved safety by increasing inspections. Because of the relatively low price of drone inspections, businesses use them to carry out regular inspections, which means issues that could arise can be discovered and resolved quicker.
  • Higher quality records. Drone data provides a detailed recording of the state the asset has over. Through the preservation of image data, the companies can have a digital record of the recorded history of the asset, which can be accessed anytime.

Read this article by Bloomberg News to learn more about drones’ ability to protect people from danger.

Inspection Standards and formal Inspection Bodies

Many industries have potentially risky assets in the event of poor maintenance. Don’t simply conduct inspections because it’s a practical idea. They also perform inspections because they’re required under the law.

STANDARDS FOR INSPECTION

Free Quadcopter Flying on the Skey Stock Photo

For the inspection of equipment that may be exploding or pose other dangers to safety when not appropriately maintained — we’re talking about boilers, pressure vessels, nuclear power stations, and other containers that contain chemical or volatile substances, the laws in many countries require specific standards to be observed in the process of inspecting them.

The standards for inspections are generally identical and are developed by associations that have a particular concentration on a particular sector.

For instance, inspections in Energy generally follow the API standard (American Petroleum Institute). ASME (American Society for Mechanical Engineers), however, on the contrary, is a standards-setting organization that develops codes for the design and construction of pressure vessels and boilers.

These are only some examples. Many organizations like API and ASME are dedicated to developing standards and training resources for different industries where inspections occur. Their guidelines are required by law in many countries worldwide.

Formal INSPECTION BODIES

To inspect risky assets, The law in many countries does not require only specific standards to be followed but additionally that a representative from an official inspection agency is present at the time of inspection.

An official Inspection body can be described as a privately owned company that provides certified, trained inspectors who authenticate inspections as being conducted by the established standards. The inspectors typically undergo rigorous training and examinations offered by and accredited by a particular standards body before obtaining the certificate that gives the authority to authenticate inspections of a specific kind.

While an association that creates standards such as API may have a few general requirements for a thorough inspection, a formal inspection organization usually has more specific guidelines for inspectors that they’ve created.

“Every inspection comes with particular challenges unique to each inspection, which is why certified API inspectors must be thoroughly trained and be able to make their own choices on the spot. When an API-certified inspector comes to an assessment on RVI Remote Visual Inspection or any other device during an inspection, that decision is based on an extensive knowledge base and knowledge.”

— Suzanne Lemieux, Manager in API’s Midstream and Industry Operations Group

In the case of overseeing an inspection, it’s ultimately the responsibility of the officials of the official inspection organization to draw upon their experience and determine whether the tool is proposed; for instance, the camera that is attached to a drone could substitute for a naked eye, and also making other decisions about how the procedure for inspection is followed correctly.

Do FORMAL INSPECTION BODIES allow DRONES to BE employed in the process of inspections?

The majority of standards organizations are solution- or company-agnostic. This means they do not recommend a specific device (for instance, a particular kind of camera or drone generally) or a particular company’s products used for inspections.

Instead, standardization organizations and formal inspection bodies rely upon each inspector’s ability to judge an instrument.

Suppose a representative of an official inspection body determines that the tool in question can gather sufficient visual data. In that case, it can collect the same data that the inspector can collect using the naked eye; then, the representative can designate the tool as an official inspecting tool.

However, since inspections are essential in ensuring proper maintenance, some formal inspection organizations are approaching drones using caution.

And with great reason. While a flying camera can be highly beneficial to inspectors, the majority of drones are not yet fully developed in terms of accuracy in operation, stability, user-friendliness, and other critical aspects to the point that they can eliminate the requirement for an individual in attendance.

The only drone recognized as an official inspection tool that we are aware of is Elios 2. 

Further reading: Can Drones be used to Conduct a Formal Inspection? ]

Note That the Elios 2 was approved as an official inspection tool in the two conducted inspections, but not for all. As mentioned above, the standards organizations and official inspection bodies are not agnostic to tools and never issue a blanket endorsement of any device or product.

Drone Inspections conducted by Industry

In the following list, we closely review the industries that use drones for inspections in support of their work.

In each sector, we’ll explain how drone inspections are performed, the benefits drones offer, and the types of assets used to inspect, and provide case studies and other resources to read further.

Remember that drone inspections can be classified into two distinct types for choosing the appropriate equipment to do the task outdoors and indoors.

Indoor inspections are generally carried out in areas that are difficult to access. In tight areas, they are likely to have different demands from outdoor inspections regarding the types of drones employed and other factors that limit their use.

List of Industries

  1. Agriculture
  2. Chemicals
  3. Construction
  4. Infrastructure & Utilities
  5. Insurance
  6. Power Generation
  7. Mining
  8. Oil & Gas
  9. Public Safety
  10. Different Drone Inspection Scenarios for Drones

Agriculture Drone Inspections

When we think about inspections, we typically think of industrial assets like boilers and construction sites. However, drone inspections of farms have been on the rise in recent years.

Drones are currently being utilized in agriculture to offer regular monitoring of livestock and crops and to produce 3D maps of the farmland to understand irrigation conditions and related issues better. Drones can provide an annual snapshot of the conditions for crops in remote areas of a vast farm, providing the owner with instant information about the crops failing to ensure that problems can be resolved before they get more serious.

In the field of agriculture, a significant advantage of using drones to inspect crops is the improvement in the yield of the crop.

The data collected by drones could be utilized to ensure that soil and crops receive what they require for maximum health and productivity. This is the method that is known as Precision agriculture.

Drones also allow farmers to reduce time, lots of it. A drone can quickly provide visual crop data that could take several hours of walking around the field. Because data capture is more efficient with drones, this can be accomplished more often, leading to better crop conditions and higher yields.

The drone data could also be utilized to keep track of the crop condition throughout time, allowing farmers to assess the health of the crops of this year’s harvest to follow or across seasons to improve their harvest under different conditions.

ASSETS THAT MUST BE MONITORED/INSTALLED

  • Crops (monitor the health maturation, damage, and issues related to them)
  • Conditions of irrigation
  • General land conditions
  • The health of the soil
  • Livestock

Chemical Industry Drone Inspection

In the Industry of chemicals, inspections can be carried out by any company that manufactures or requires the storage of chemicals as part of their work, which includes laboratories.

The need for rigorous maintenance practices and inspections is evident. Any leak resulting from a storage container could lead to severe consequences, such as problems like the leaching of chemicals into the earth or water, which could cause serious health hazards for people in the vicinity.

One significant benefit of drones to inspect chemical industries is decreasing exposure to potentially hazardous substances. There is also a massive potential for savings by not having to construct scaffolding to conduct inspections and fewer liability issues.

ASSETS THAT MUST be inspected

  • Pipe racks
  • Cables
  • Conduits
  • Fermenter tanks
  • Pressure vessels / Storage tanks
  • Fiberglass storage tanks
  • Suction ducts
  • Heat exchangers
  • Storage bins and silos

CONSTRUCTION DRONE INSPECTIONS

Industrial Drones
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Construction companies have utilized drone inspections for some time recently to gather data quickly about the performance of their work.

Similar to the advantages drone inspections offer in construction sites, the ability to collect aerial data about the condition of the entire construction site quickly and efficiently is a huge benefit and could save businesses lots of money.

Here are a few advantages construction firms are reaping from drones:

  • Accurate reporting is improved
  • Regular reports
  • Improve safety conditions by swiftly spotting potential problems on site
  • Improving the efficiency of operations

Drone inspections can help construction processes by pre-planning the construction, providing visual data which can be transformed into precise 3D or orthomosaic plans of the region, which are then utilized to pinpoint the most suitable site for a construction site.

The maps can be utilized throughout the construction project to track progress, provide regular updates to clients and other stakeholders, and monitor and track the inventory of materials on site.

Of all the advantages of having a drone at a construction site, one of the greatest is avoiding delays. By increasing the frequency of data gathering and reporting, construction companies can spot issues in advance and avoid over budget.

ASSETS THAT MUST be inspected

  • Land
  • Construction site (building and its surrounding area)
  • On-site stockpiles and aggregates
  • Fencing and other safety measures to stop civilians from entering the area
  • Safety guidelines for the crew to determine areas of potential danger before any injuries

INFRASTRUCTURE & UTILITY DRONE INSPECTION

Of all the industry categories listed, the one listed here is the broadest. Infrastructure & Utilities includes utility towers, bridges, air transportation infrastructure, railways, roads, and many more.

Drones are currently being utilized for Infrastructure & Utilities for inspections related to maintenance routines and for inspections following disasters, such as flooding and hurricanes, and in situations where the state of the infrastructure is not known.

The most significant benefit of drone inspections in Infrastructure & Utilities is the possibility of obtaining exact data quickly and cheaply. When there is a risk of danger for inspectors, such as the tower and bridge inspections, A further benefit is a possibility of gathering critical data in visual data without requiring the inspector to be physically in the area.

For this to be more tangible, visual inspection of the bridge without a drone may require inspectors to be lowered into place and sometimes employ massive machinery to aid in the process. All of this could take a long time and pose a risk.

With a drone, inspectors can collect visual data on a bridge within one or two hours and perform regular inspections because the expense and time needed are significantly less.

ASSETS THAT SHOULD be inspected

  • Utility towers
  • Wind turbines
  • Bridges
  • Infrastructure for air transport, which includes airstrips as well as air towers
  • Railways
  • Roads

Insurance Drone Inspection

Insurance companies have used drones for roof inspections and other associated insurance adjustments for quite a while. In 2019, State Farm was the first business to receive authorization for flying Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) to inspect damage assessments in connection with insurance claims.

The most popular inspection scenario for drones is to inspect the damage to the roof following a significant weather event or hurricane. Instead of sending someone on the roof to assess the damage that has occurred and the damage caused, drone inspections can quickly gather visual data regarding the roof’s condition and store it in a format that insurance companies can easily search for verification of any insurance claim.

In a natural catastrophe, the demand for commercially certified drone pilots within a region could increase as insurance companies rush to find pilots who can meet their data need for collection.

Did you not know? Home inspectors frequently use drones to inspect roofs, giving them a faster, safer method of collecting visual data that shows the condition of a house’s roof. Additionally, they use thermal images from drones to find areas that leak heat, indicating the necessity for repairs or maintenance.

ASSETS THAT SHOULD BE CHECKED

  • Roofs
  • Site (overall conditions for the website)
  • Infrastructure and buildings on an insurance-insured site
  • Car accident scenes
  • Farms/crop damage
  • Other items that may be damaged as a result of the effects of a natural catastrophe

Power Generation Drone Inspections

Power companies can work with structures that must be regularly inspected. They include equipment used for coal-powered energy production, such as chimneys and boilers and chimneys, as well as the ones used in renewable power sources like wind turbines and various components of the hydropower plant.

Inspections of power plants are being transformed through drone technology. The main advantages of drone inspections over traditional inspections, in many instances, are that they keep the inspector from danger and reduce costs as they do not have to build scaffolding or other temporary structures to aid in inspections.

ASSETS THAT SHOULD be inspected

  • Coal-fired boilers
  • Nuclear power plants
  • Generators for steam heat recovery
  • Waste incinerators
  • Wind turbines
  • Hydropower plants
  • Solar panels / solar panel farms
  • Transformers
  • Chimneys/ Smokestacks

SURVEYS OF MINING DRONES

After mining operations have extracted an ore vein, the massive underground pit that remains from where the ore was mined could be extremely unstable as the ore falls from the ceiling and away from the walls.

These areas, also known as “stopes” within the mining industry, pose such a danger to the public that many countries ban mining workers from entering them through law.

However, information about the state of a stope could be crucial for mining companies. There could be a lot of ore left inside the stope, which can be sold to earn profits. Mining companies also employ expensive equipment for remote mining, which could be destroyed if inserted into an unsteady stop.

Drones offer a unique opportunity for mining companies to collect data about stops and ore passages and other areas of mining operations that otherwise would not be possible to collect.

Visual data from excavations that drones capture could provide safety evaluations that were previously difficult to conduct, which allows for unimaginable access to areas that aren’t allowed to be entered without exposing workers to the dangers of underground construction. Also, new drones with LiDAR cameras have made it possible to design 3D models in these zones.

Utilizing new mapping software, drone data obtained by drones can now be utilized to produce 3-D models of stops that can then be examined against pre- and post-excavation environments to determine how the region has changed.

The most significant benefit of drone inspections during mining lies in keeping miners away from danger. Underground conditions can be volatile, and the capability to collect and analyze visual data remotely and in a manner that protects mining workers and is secure is an enormous benefit for the whole operation.

Another advantage of using drones in mining is the ability to gain access to information that would otherwise be impossible to gather. Another benefit is the possible savings from finding uncollected mines, avoiding equipment loss through entering areas with unstable conditions, and identifying additional ore that can be mined from a zone.

The last advantage is worthy of highlighting. Mining equipment that is operated remotely, like muckers, can be costly. Being able to gather visual data about the condition of a particular area before the time any equipment is delivered can aid in avoiding huge losses due to damaged or destroyed equipment.

ASSETS THAT MUST be inspected

  • Stops
  • Conveyor belts
  • SAG Ball, SAG, and grinding mills
  • Drop raises
  • Stockpile feeders
  • Crushers

OIL & GAS DRONE INSIGHTS

The Oil & Gas industry stores gasoline, natural gas, and other substances in pressure vessels and storage tanks, which means they are required to check the condition of these storage tanks regularly.

Drones are getting more common in these inspections because they can be used instead of the requirement of sending an inspector inside the container. Utilizing drones to conduct these inspections is advantageous as it doesn’t require construction scaffolding to view what’s inside the containers from close up, thereby keeping the inspector safe while also saving money and eliminating the necessity of building scaffolding to inspect the container.

Drone inspections aren’t just beneficial to maintain containers for storing gasoline, oil, and other substances produced within the Oil & Gas industry. They also play a role in maintaining the equipment employed in manufacturing these products.

For instance, The FCC unit used to transform heavy crude oil components into valuable fuel products comprises a variety of pipes, cyclones, and vessels.

The main pipe to this operation is called the riser, which combines this heavy oil with a catalyst that is powdered at high temperatures. To inspect a riser, it is usually done the most powerful thing of cutting a hole in the upper part of the pipe and then drop an inspector inside using a rope. Using a drone eliminates the requirement to go inside the pipe, and the inspector is kept away from a potentially dangerous situation while saving time and money.

ASSETS THAT MUST be inspected

  • Chimneys and smokestacks
  • Offshore drilling rigs FPSOS and drilling vessels
  • Storage tanks
  • Refineries
  • Jetties

Public Safety Drone Inspections

Drone applications for public safety have increased rapidly in the past few years.

Certain inspection situations where drones are employed in public safety are ongoing, real-time events, for example, locating missing persons during a Search & Rescue operation, collecting aerial intelligence during the scenario of active shooters, and gaining insights into the process by which a wildfire is expanding.

Public safety officials are also using drones for inspections that aren’t ongoing or active such as making use of aerial data that drones capture to create orthomosaic maps for public areas to prepare for a shooting incident or making use of drone data to examine an incident scene.

The methods of drone inspections are being employed in PUBLIC SAFETY.

  • Visual data collection in arson investigations, as well as other scenarios of forensic data collection scenarios
  • Visual data gathering of ongoing fires
  • Visual data gathering from the crime scene in progress to identify the entry and exit points and hostage situations and aid police officers in planning the following actions
  • Accident reconstruction
  • Pre-planning for disasters and emergency scenarios by making use of aerial data to develop maps for highly urbanized areas such as malls and schools, which can be used as a reference in the event of an active shooter or any other devastating events
  • Examining public spaces such as arenas and stadiums for security issues

OTHER SCENARIOS FOR DRONE INSPECTION

As you may have guessed from the above, drone inspections can be carried out nearly everywhere an inspection may be required.

Here are a few other industries that are currently making use of drones for inspections:

MARITIME Drone Inspection

Inspections related to maritime inspections include inspections of massive container vessels used to transport products, the containers themselves, and any other inspections connected to boat shipping.

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Author

Ornaldo has been working in the Marine Industry for over a decade and holds certifications for Yamaha and Mercury Marine. It is not uncommon for him to own and be working on at least three different boats at any given point in time! Ornaldo is a person who lives an outdoor life to a great extent. He is more interested in mountaineering and boating. And now he is co-creator and author of this blog

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