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How utilities can use drones to maintain the electric grid from the skies.

Inspection and maintenance of factory equipment are critical to minimizing downtime. Sometimes it’s tough to keep up even when your machinery is in the building with you. But how about when your assets are the national power grid — in the middle of nowhere, open to the elements, and 70 feet in the air. Oh, did I mention your downtime is typically broadcast on the news? No pressure, or anything.

The electric grid relies on transmission lines that span miles and are often in remote locations, making needed line inspection and maintenance difficult. Typically, utility companies use line crews and helicopters for these activities, but robots and drones have the potential to reduce costs, improve reliability and reduce some hazardous situations for workers.

That’s why the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) continues to advance the technology:

  • “Ti” is an inspection robot that crawls along lines, cluing in utilities to things such as equipment conditions and whether trees or grass are causing problems. Based on initial field tests, Ti might be monitoring your power lines by late 2016.
  • Aerial drones were recently tested to see if they could evaluate large areas of the grid after a major storm, streaming video at altitudes of up to 7,000 feet. The drones were capable of assessing damage more quickly than the ground-based crews that had to navigate through storm-ravaged roads and trees.

High-voltage line work will always be a hazardous job, but drones and robots can help to minimize some of the inspection risks and restore power sooner. EPRI has other robots in the works to help utility companies maintain their assets more cost-effectively and keep the electricity coming. That’s good news for line crews, consumers and technology providers.


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