Current and Future UAV Technology for Distribution Overhead System Inspections — CEATI Report

Drone technology has evolved quickly over the past seven years. Just before that, however the technology experienced a so-called “Trough of Disillusionment,” a stage within a new technology’s “hype curve.” Many industries, including electric utilities, found that some of the promises and expectations of UAV technology were inflated, and that the results and performance originally hoped for were not immediately possible. Today, expectations of UAV’s are again on the upward trend as focused use cases start to show tangible benefits. As a result, more real life performance data emerges allowing for go/no-go decisions. This in turn offers a better understanding of how the technology can benefit enterprise thanks to specific examples of successful application.

In 2016, Aeriosense team members collaborated with Centre for Energy Advancement — through Technological Innovation (CEATI) to conduct a technology review on the usage of UAV’s for Transmission Line inspections. This user-driven organization brings together over 140 electrical utility participants to collaborate and act jointly to advance the electric power industry. Since the review, the industry has adopted many use cases discussed in the ensuing report. Many of the developing technologies that were reviewed in the report have also continued to evolve and have been implemented in practice with inspections throughout the industry — such as automated inspections.

In a more recent CEATI report, Aeriosense evaluated the current state of the art on the use of UAV’s for inspection of overhead distribution lines. The research provides an outlook on the potential future use of UAV’s in the next 10 years. In the current 70 page report we review the progress of unmanned systems technology, including the available spectrum of small, unmanned aircraft platforms, sensors, and payloads, as well as the software eco system. Other parts of the study focus on the particular aspects of the application in distribution facilities inspections such as impact of geographic parameters on the efficiency of UAV inspections and the cost benefit comparison with conventional inspection approaches.

An insulator on a distribution pole
Sample image from report showing data captured via UAV

UAV Focused Uses Benefits

One of the main insights of this study is that based on analysis of UAV inspection performance and review of about half a dozen utility programs currently in place, there are clear use cases where UAV inspection method is clearly beneficial. However, there are other cases where the opposite is true which show that UAVs are not a silver bullet of inspections. These findings present an interesting read for those seeking examples of focused use cases regarding UAV inspection performance.

The Aeriosense team has a history of providing industry expertise and knowledge sharing through organizations like CEATI. See below for a full table of contents from our recent report or click here to view the abstract, inquire about the report, or obtain a copy.

Table of Contents for the CEATI Report

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