Harnessing advanced technology to enhance operations, ComEd announced that, for the first time, its certified pilots will operate drones remotely from any location across northern Illinois. Using new Skydio Drone Dock technology, ComEd crews will test remote drone monitoring solutions that will enable safe, cost-effective on-site and on-demand surveillance capabilities without dispatching trucks of crews to perform in-person inspections.
“At ComEd we are always looking for ways to improve our customers’ experience and advance our storm recovery efforts. Smarter equipment monitoring is one way to proactively prevent outages and support overall grid performance,” said Terence Donnelly, president and COO of ComEd. “The expansion of our drone program builds upon the innovative work we have done over the last decade to strengthen and modernize our system.”
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which regulates commercial drone operation, permits organizations like ComEd to request operational waivers that allow pilots to remotely operate drones without a visual line of sight. These operational waivers will allow FAA-certified ComEd pilots to use enhanced drones to support routine equipment inspection, enabling utility crews to focus on priority grid repair and improvements.
Remote monitoring by drone will support overall grid performance by increasing ComEd’s ability to rapidly inspect equipment throughout the electric company’s service territory. This will help reduce operations and maintenance costs, while helping identify potential problem areas and prevent power outages before they occur. Remote, off-site flying capabilities will also maximize ComEd’s drone pilots’ efforts by limiting the time they are physically needed in the field.
To support ComEd’s nation-leading resiliency, routine monitoring of equipment is crucial to ensuring all grid assets are operating as intended. ComEd uses drones in a variety of ways, including to inspect power lines and following storms to assess damage and enable crews to more quickly and efficiently restore power. Drone pilots regularly join frontline workers in the field to assist with line and equipment inspection. In 2022, ComEd also began using drones to support vegetation management.
The drones included in ComEd’s Drone Dock program will be equipped with a high-resolution camera and thermography tools. These features will allow the drones to capture extensive data, digital images and video from all angles of grid equipment, which will then be reviewed to help preemptively address future equipment failure based on equipment conditions and environmental factors.
The docking station, manufactured by Skydio, provides a remote housing unit and launch pad for the drones when not in use. Currently, the technology is installed at ComEd’s Chicago Training Center while ComEd pilots are trained to use the new technology; the installation of additional docks is expected later in 2023 at secure locations throughout ComEd’s service territory.