Practical applications of flying drones in the electric power industry

As part of a consortium, Astron Informatics Ltd. has recently participated in a project developing flying drones’ collision prevention capabilities. We asked dr. Attila Kovács, CEO of Astron about the potential practical applications of such drones in the electric power industry.

Can you tell us a little bit about drones in general and how they could be useful for the electric power industry?

Attila Kovács: Basically, there are two types of drones, copters and flying drones. Copters in general can spend up to 30 minutes in the air and have a limited controllable range meaning that they can only fly in a zone of a couple of hundred meters. In the electric power industry, they are mostly used for system surveillance, since the drones can inspect the high-voltage transmissions from a short distance and determine if the insulation panel of the wires is damaged or contaminated.

Then you have the flying drones. They can fly at 100-120 km/h, they have a 25 km controllable range and they can stay in the air for an hour and a half. They practically look like small airplanes. In the electric power industry, these drones are especially useful when one wants to inspect different components of a power network spread across a vast region. Besides system surveillance, they can be used to support restoration purposes as well. In case of a network malfunction, these drones can quickly and effectively detect which pillar is affected, and they can also scan the transmission wires with an infrared camera locating hot-points detecting insufficient wire connections.

What kind of drones did Astron work with?

Attila Kovács: As part of a consortium, we worked on improving the collision prevention capabilities of flying drones. Usually flying drones are operated from a virtual cockpit. Our aim was to help drones automatically detect if a flying object entered their field of vision and then modify their path automatically to avoid collision. This could substitute the role of the virtual cockpit, since drones would be able to navigate automatically.

What could be the practical applications of these drones in the power industry?

Attila Kovács: They are without a doubt great for diagnostic purposes and they can prove to be quite useful in case of system disturbances as well. Monitoring of the vegetation along the line and the maintenance of transmission line track is an important task for the power system operation staff. It is usually a problem if there are high trees directly below the wires, since as they grow, they can reach the wires and cause system closures. With the help of the drones, it’s easier to detect when the trees have to be trimmed and maintenance can be planed more effectively thus avoiding system malfunctions as well. Of course, there can be a number of other applications as well besides the above mentioned ones, and I am confident that it will further develop in the future.

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