Aviation Unmanned is a Dallas-based unmanned aerial system (UAS) operations company, providing UAS services, support, and training to customers globally. They have thousands of hours flying unmanned aircraft and instructing clients on their use, and an in-depth knowledge of how to use UAS capabilities to meet the unique needs of utility customers.
Inspecting power distribution lines is an extremely time-consuming process. For one utility company in a major U.S. city, the Aeryon SkyRanger and Aeryon HDZoom30 imaging payload changed that. The quick set-up significantly increased the inspector’s average inspection rate, while also increasing their safety. And, the high-definition, geotagged images that were captured allowed the utility to update and improve the information in their GIS system, which will save them time and money in the future.
INDUSTRY: Utility Inspection | REGION: USA
Power distribution lines carry over 10,000 volts of electricity, so it’s vital that they are inspected regularly to ensure that the power grid isn’t compromised. Traditionally, inspectors use a bucket truck at each pole to look for damage and check the connections between the electrical components. In particular, they check the insulators for signs of arcing, which indicates that the current isn’t being contained and could surge. But, these tasks are onerous and dangerous.
Much of the inspector’s time is wasted setting up at each pole and moving the bucket to the right height. Even more time is lost due to out-of-date information about pole locations in the utility’s GIS system. Over the course of the day, lost time adds up, and the number of poles that can be inspected is reduced. On average, a team can inspect only 10 to 15 poles per day.
The power lines are also fully operational during an inspection, so inspectors must wear protective equipment and closely follow safety procedures. Electricity can be unpredictable and they don’t know the condition of electrical components until they are right beside them. The inspectors are also at the mercy of the elements – even moderate winds can make it hard to focus on small areas or a steady rain can make it difficult to see the component details. An inspector might miss something that might have been spotted under better conditions or with a better solution.
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“The Aeryon SkyRanger is easy to use – it does exactly what we want it to, when we want it to.“ indicated Ryan Connelly, UAS Pilot and Safety Officer with Aviation Unmanned. “And, our customers are very happy with the quality of the images.”
- SkyRanger’s quick set-up reduced wasted down-time and increased the average inspection rate by over 1000%
- Inspectors are able to review the details of the electrical components using high-resolution images, reducing the risk of personal injuries
- Geo-tagged data can be imported into the utility’s GIS system, providing a more accurate inventory and location of poles
- High-resolution images can be incorporated into the historical record of the poles and line components, allowing inspectors to make better assessments in the future
Unlike the lengthy and repetitious setup required with a bucket truck, the Aviation Unmanned team quickly set up at the mid-way point in a row of poles. They launched the SkyRanger and completed half of the inspection during the approximately 50-minute flight. After a brief landing to change the SkyRanger’s battery, it was back in the air to continue the inspection in the other direction. Instead of completing 10 to 15 inspections per day, they completed 10 to 15 inspections per flight.
This greatly increased the number of poles inspected and the HDZoom30 payload delivered detailed, high-resolution images, proving to the inspection team that nothing was missed. Because the images are geotagged, the inspection doubled as an opportunity to update the outdated GIS grid and record the precise location of each pole for future inspections.
The high definition images also proved valuable for finding issues that might have been missed in a traditional inspection. At one pole, the SkyRanger uncovered a bent cauter pin, something one inspector said he might have missed if he had visually inspected the component.
The high-definition images, reduced safety risks, and ease-of-use were impressive, but the numbers told an even bigger story.
Aviation Unmanned inspected 1,117 poles during multiple demonstrations, including one record-breaking day when they inspected 258 poles. In a span of six days, they inspected 847 poles, an average of 141 poles per day. Using a bucket truck, the utility would have only been able to inspect between 60 to 90 poles, averaging about 12 poles per day.
Aside from using the geotagged images to update pole locations, the high-definition images allow inspectors to compare images from multiple inspections and assess changes to the pole and its components.
The Aviation Unmanned team proved that the Aeryon SkyRanger could significantly improve the number of inspections that can be performed by a team in a day. With an estimated 160 million to 180 million utility poles across the United States1 , local utilities can realize considerable savings.