UAVs help utilities bring back the power

Researchers at New Mexico State University (NMSU; Las Cruces, NM, USA) and the Electric Power Research Institute(EPRI; Palo Alto, CA, USA) recently completed tests that concluded that unmanned aircraft can be safely and effectively used to assess power grid damage following a storm or natural disaster.

Conducted at the New Mexico State University Flight Test Center, the tests involved using high-resolution video cameras mounted on an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) called the Airborne Damage Assessment Module (ADAM) to transmit high definition streaming video of power lines from a height of 5,000 to 7,000 feet.

According to Steve Hottman, associate dean and deputy director, of the NMSU Physical Science Laboratory, when Hurricane Katrina came into New Orleans, the FAA would not allow unmanned aircraft to be used during the relief efforts for safety reasons. But the researchers believe that they could be used safely and effectively for this application in the future.

“After a tornado or a hurricane, trees are often blocking roads and obstacles like this cause delays in getting ground crews out to analyze the situation. If you launch unmanned aircraft, you have no worries over road conditions. It can fly over the damaged areas and send back GPS coordinates of sections that are down, relaying that information back to the utility provider,” says Hottman.

“Our research clearly shows that drones may provide utilities a tool that could reduce outage restoration time. Using live streaming video information, utility system operators would be able to dramatically improve damage assessment,” adds Matthew Olearczyk, senior program manager for distribution research at EPRI.

The researchers plan to continue to work to determine the operational effectiveness of the system and plan to demonstrate its capabilities towards the end of this year.