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Transpower deploys robots in pilot programme

Embracing innovative technology in its work on the National Grid, Transpower is looking to robots to help deliver quicker restoration times in remote locations, and save consumers money in the process.

Transpower’s robot pilot programme is now underway at Albany Substation. The month-long trial will see Transpower’s two substation robots put through their paces to test their capabilities and potential to be used in remote substations. If successful, they will be deployed to substations that are difficult to reach to see how they perform and improve decision-making.

The two robots were developed with Massey University and have progressed from basic to advanced models over the past five years. The robots feature in-built cameras, sensors and 4WD tracks that allow them to traverse the rugged external surfaces of a substation and observe the state of vital power equipment.

Transpower’s acting Grid Service Delivery General Manager Mark Ryall said, if successful, this pilot will provide Transpower with a virtual presence at isolated sites where no contractors or staff are located within the area.

“We have 174 substations nationwide and 25 of those are remote from our core workforce, which means it can take over 90 minutes to respond to a callout,” he said. “These robots have the potential to be our eyes on the ground, as they can be remotely controlled by a Transpower regional operator or engineer anywhere in New Zealand. Their capabilities – including microphones, high-resolution zoom cameras and thermal imaging – will allow us to quickly assess issues and coordinate our response faster, which means less time with the lights off.”

One robot will be based at Albany Substation while the second will be laboratory-based to undergo any necessary enhancements that the trial highlights. Preliminary testing in rain, hail and snow has shown the robots can withstand the challenges of New Zealand’s climate and terrain.

In addition to reducing outage times, it is hoped this technology will result in savings to baseline maintenance costs.

“It will be exciting to see what benefits these robots can provide, including supporting remote switching, condition surveillance, checking on construction and maintenance as well as visual imagery for staff training purposes,” said Mark Ryall. “Enhancing our productivity in this way is a winwin – saving time and money, which is good news for consumers.”

While China is known to be testing a simple robot prototype in its grid work, few other global grid operators have advanced towards the use of artificial intelligence in the same way as this robot.

“We expect continued strong interest in the pilot from our overseas counterparts, who are keen to see how helpful this technology can be in our line of work,” he said.

Ends

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