An observer standing beneath a FortisBC transmission line structure in B.C.’s southern interior this fall might have noticed a small black drone confidently approaching as it followed the power line. When it neared the structure, it would stop to hover a few metres away.
And start its dance. Nimbly flying by each insulator, approaching the wooden crossarms and even inspecting the guy wires while deftly avoiding the power cables, it would finally pick up speed and dart to the next pylon to do it all over again.
Aeriosense Technologies hopes to change at least one thing about this scene: remove the observer.
The Vancouver company designs software that sends autonomous drones along electrical corridors to inspect the lines, the insulators, and all the components critical to the transmission infrastructure. It got a robust testing this summer when it helped FortisBC inspect more than 180 kilometres of transmission line in B.C.’s central Kootenay region. This is hilly, forested, hard to access and occasionally snowy terrain that presents serious challenges to conventional inspection techniques. But by using asset data provided by the utility, Aeriosense’s artificial intelligence software constructs a unique inspection flight plan for an inquiring drone.
And very little is required of the pilot. The drones travel autonomously over the Rights of Way checking for threats to the line … such as the always encroaching forest.
The drones also have a second mode for the close inspection of the transmission structures. Inspection software assigns the drones to points of interest and waits for the pilot to snap a still.
Pilots can then concentrate on spotting problems and not worry much about the drone since 90 percent of the flight is controlled by Aeriosense proprietary software.
Aeriosense inspection automation software allows drones to inspect multiple towers on a single mission. If pilots had to inspect each tower individually, it would be far too slow to inspect an entire transmission circuit. During the three weeks of inspections with FortisBC, Aeriosense patrolled and inspected nearly one thousand transmission structures. Drones obviously save a lot of wear and tear on a lineworker.
“It really takes the mental and hand-eye coordination load off the pilot and it’s a lot faster of course. They have the confidence of not crashing into the structure or the trees to fly much further than they would otherwise,” says Barter.
The missions are much more efficient and wire strike is avoided,” says Babakov. “If someone were to fly each tower manually, pilot fatigue would set in so our software offers several advantages over our competitors.”