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Transpower’s drones set to improve safety and detect faults

Transpower is currently testing new unmanned aerial vehicle (drone) technologies to cut the number of helicopter flights required for visual inspections of its assets. The transition away from helicopters for this type of work will reduce the noise and inconvenience currently experienced by tens of thousands of people living under or near Transpower’s lines.

Drones can eliminate the likelihood of a manned aircraft coming into contact with lines and towers during routine visual inspections, improving overall health and safety. Transpower’s new unmanned aircraft are equipped with multiple fail-safes, including self-deploying parachutes, in the event a flight should unexpectedly terminate.

“We want to keep our teams and New Zealanders safe, reduce disruption to the public, and improve the quality of information obtained about our assets,” explains Mark Ryall, GM Grid Service Delivery. “Our tests are showing these new technologies can do that, with the added benefit of helping us to operate more efficiently.”

About Transpower’s drone technology
Transpower is trialling a number of applications for drone technology on New Zealand’s electricity transmission system.

Transpower’s service provider, Broadspectrum, conducts tests using drones fit with high resolution cameras. Flights are pre-programmed using GPS and fly between towers, inspecting multiple conductors (wires) in a single pass. A Broadspectrum pilot and observer are able to monitor flights safely from the ground. Images obtained by the drones are also being used to develop a cloud-based, artificial intelligence (AI) solution to identify and classify defects and damage more quickly and with greater accuracy than is humanly possible.

Post graduate students at the College of Engineering, University of Canterbury, are also assisting Transpower with the development of special ongoing unmanned aerial vehicles. These drones are being developed to work on electrified lines, reducing the need for power outages for inspection, testing, and repair in the future.

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