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Advances in Drone Technology Benefitting the Electric Power Industry

April 6, 2022

In the past decade alone, drones and drone technology have attracted increased interest from a variety of sectors, including delivery services, disaster relief, military work, and city planning. The electric power industry is no exception, and in 2017 we briefly covered some of the benefits this sector could see as drone usage increases. In the following interview, we asked Beta Engineering Proposal Manager and FAA-licensed drone operator Chris Frusha to explain the growing possibilities for drone usage and the value drones can offer to the power and construction industries specifically.

Frusha has more than twenty years of experience in the high voltage construction industry, and last year as a personal hobby, he decided to purchase his first large drone and earn his FAA Unmanned Aircraft Systems (USA) commercial license.

1. Can you briefly describe some of the drone software technologies that are available?

With the drone camera system, a 3D photogrammetry software can convert images captured by the drone camera system to high-resolution, textured, 3D mesh models. Then, there’s a 3D analytics and simulation software that allows the user to view, query, analyze and present geospatial data. With an advanced version of this same software, the user can edit and publish 3D terrain, 3D mesh, lidar, BIM, raster and other geo-referenced projects. These files are large and often need to be shared between vendors and customers, so there’s also software available to handle cloud storage and sharing for these files.

2. What applications could you see this technology having for substation and transmission line construction? What about applications for the maintenance of these systems?

Those applications mentioned previously would all be beneficial to high voltage projects. These projects all have clearance requirements for the energized components. The same holds true for maintenance. Often, maintenance crews will only de-energize the portion of system they are working on but will still need to maintain clearance from the energized parts. They may need to use heavy equipment or large vehicles to perform their work. So being able to identify precise distances to surrounding obstacles can be critical. Thermal imaging is also an important tool for some maintenance programs. The ability to scan a site can pay dividends in time saved and safety by deploying a drone to locate problem areas.

3. We’ve seen drones and drone technology attract interest from a wide variety of sectors, from personal hobbyists to package delivery companies, professional videographers, the military, and now the construction industry. Where do you see drone technology heading next?

Good question. It’s hard to predict what new technology could be introduced next. I believe there is technology available now that we are still finding new uses for. A good example is thermography. High resolution thermal imaging camera systems are common for drones now. Not too long ago, thermal imaging was primarily used in industrial settings for predictive maintenance. Finding areas where connections or components are overheating allows for planned outages or downtime to make repairs, saving time and the costs that come with unexpected failures.

Then we’ve seen thermal technology used for inspecting building envelopes, locating areas where heating and cooling is lost through poor insulation or sealing around doors and windows.  Veterinarians have used thermal imaging for locating inflammation in the joints of horses, and firefighters have used thermal cameras to locate burning embers.

With drone technology advancing, we now see thermal imaging over a larger area. For instance, finding lost people or pets in search and rescue missions. Tall high-rise buildings can be inspected for heating and cooling loss faster and more efficiently. Water leaks on building roofs can be located quickly.

Thermal imaging combined with the ability to rapidly deploy a drone in most cases is much safer and less expensive than manned aircraft crews. Then there are many other areas where the efficiency and low cost of drones are changing the way we do business, like real estate advertising video and images, filmmaking, security/surveillance.

Now it’s a matter of fine-tuning those systems with the development of better battery systems for longer flight times, newer higher-resolution camera systems, the latest FAA strobe lighting, and upcoming remote identification requirements.

More About Drone Use in the Electric Power Sector:

  • According to research published by IEEE Xplore, utility companies can use drone thermal imaging to determine problems along power lines. For example, drones can help detect when and where transmission lines are overheating.
  • Substation designers can use images and data collected by drones to create 3D models. For instance, they can take lidar data and point cloud models from drone scanners and use these to create integrated design construction (IDC) models. According to Beta’s Integrated Design Manager Jonathan McLin, drones can “give us real world data to incorporate into a live IDC model. They are also wonderful for visual marketing and representation of project progress throughout the course of construction.”
  • Drones offers power delivery companies numerous benefits, including faster inspections and reduced hazards for utility workers and valuable data about vegetation clearances and tree hazards near utility structures to help utilities create wildfire mitigation plans.

More Beta News

blog

Advances in Drone Technology Benefitting the Electric Power Industry

April 6, 2022

Updated:

April 6, 2022

In the past decade alone, drones and drone technology have attracted increased interest from a variety of sectors, including delivery services, disaster relief, military work, and city planning. The electric power industry is no exception, and in 2017 we briefly covered some of the benefits this sector could see as drone usage increases. In the following interview, we asked Beta Engineering Proposal Manager and FAA-licensed drone operator Chris Frusha to explain the growing possibilities for drone usage and the value drones can offer to the power and construction industries specifically.

Frusha has more than twenty years of experience in the high voltage construction industry, and last year as a personal hobby, he decided to purchase his first large drone and earn his FAA Unmanned Aircraft Systems (USA) commercial license.

1. Can you briefly describe some of the drone software technologies that are available?

With the drone camera system, a 3D photogrammetry software can convert images captured by the drone camera system to high-resolution, textured, 3D mesh models. Then, there’s a 3D analytics and simulation software that allows the user to view, query, analyze and present geospatial data. With an advanced version of this same software, the user can edit and publish 3D terrain, 3D mesh, lidar, BIM, raster and other geo-referenced projects. These files are large and often need to be shared between vendors and customers, so there’s also software available to handle cloud storage and sharing for these files.

2. What applications could you see this technology having for substation and transmission line construction? What about applications for the maintenance of these systems?

Those applications mentioned previously would all be beneficial to high voltage projects. These projects all have clearance requirements for the energized components. The same holds true for maintenance. Often, maintenance crews will only de-energize the portion of system they are working on but will still need to maintain clearance from the energized parts. They may need to use heavy equipment or large vehicles to perform their work. So being able to identify precise distances to surrounding obstacles can be critical. Thermal imaging is also an important tool for some maintenance programs. The ability to scan a site can pay dividends in time saved and safety by deploying a drone to locate problem areas.

3. We’ve seen drones and drone technology attract interest from a wide variety of sectors, from personal hobbyists to package delivery companies, professional videographers, the military, and now the construction industry. Where do you see drone technology heading next?

Good question. It’s hard to predict what new technology could be introduced next. I believe there is technology available now that we are still finding new uses for. A good example is thermography. High resolution thermal imaging camera systems are common for drones now. Not too long ago, thermal imaging was primarily used in industrial settings for predictive maintenance. Finding areas where connections or components are overheating allows for planned outages or downtime to make repairs, saving time and the costs that come with unexpected failures.

Then we’ve seen thermal technology used for inspecting building envelopes, locating areas where heating and cooling is lost through poor insulation or sealing around doors and windows.  Veterinarians have used thermal imaging for locating inflammation in the joints of horses, and firefighters have used thermal cameras to locate burning embers.

With drone technology advancing, we now see thermal imaging over a larger area. For instance, finding lost people or pets in search and rescue missions. Tall high-rise buildings can be inspected for heating and cooling loss faster and more efficiently. Water leaks on building roofs can be located quickly.

Thermal imaging combined with the ability to rapidly deploy a drone in most cases is much safer and less expensive than manned aircraft crews. Then there are many other areas where the efficiency and low cost of drones are changing the way we do business, like real estate advertising video and images, filmmaking, security/surveillance.

Now it’s a matter of fine-tuning those systems with the development of better battery systems for longer flight times, newer higher-resolution camera systems, the latest FAA strobe lighting, and upcoming remote identification requirements.

More About Drone Use in the Electric Power Sector:

  • According to research published by IEEE Xplore, utility companies can use drone thermal imaging to determine problems along power lines. For example, drones can help detect when and where transmission lines are overheating.
  • Substation designers can use images and data collected by drones to create 3D models. For instance, they can take lidar data and point cloud models from drone scanners and use these to create integrated design construction (IDC) models. According to Beta’s Integrated Design Manager Jonathan McLin, drones can “give us real world data to incorporate into a live IDC model. They are also wonderful for visual marketing and representation of project progress throughout the course of construction.”
  • Drones offers power delivery companies numerous benefits, including faster inspections and reduced hazards for utility workers and valuable data about vegetation clearances and tree hazards near utility structures to help utilities create wildfire mitigation plans.

Published:

April 6, 2022

Updated:

April 6, 2022

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