Civilian Drones to Search for Downed Power Lines During Blackouts

Using Drones to Search for Downed Power Lines

Courtesy EPRI

Today in ways the impending domestic drone explosion is going to change your life: a number of utilities are testing new technologies that will allow them to quickly diagnose grid problems and rapidly restore electricity to areas stricken by blackouts--technologies that include augmented reality apps and aerial drones. These prototype systems could go a long way toward streamlining the grid repair process, quickly returning households and local economies to normal after sever weather events or other power-related calamities.

One such solution, developed by the nonprofit research group EPRI (for Electric Power Research Institute), is a prototype app for the iPad that uses augmented reality to allow utility workers to quickly dial up orders for replacement equipment. A worker driving a stretch of damaged utility poles can point his or her tablet at a any given pole and use an AR overlay to quickly make note of what kind of pole, transformer, wire, and other equipment are present, record what kind of system is wired up there, and designate what equipment needs replacing.

That information is then geotagged and beamed to the utility's motor pool where trucks are being loaded with replacement equipment. Each individual utility pole can thus have its own detailed service order, allowing trucks to be loaded only with the equipment they need to repair a given stretch of downed or damaged power lines.

In the same vein, some in the utility industry are experimenting with camera-equipped drones that could be quickly launched to count downed utility poles, locate any downed power lines, and perhaps even allow field workers like the one described above to make determinations about what needs to be replaced in a certain area. These small, inexpensive drones, likely with a flight range of a few hours and packing nothing more sophisticated than a simple optical camera, could also alert road crews to obstructed roadways or notify emergency crews of individuals in distress almost immediately after a storm passes.