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One of them looks like a sleek, fairly straightforward radio-controlled helicopter and the other one looks sort of like it might be a lunar lander with propellers. They're the latest incarnations of the Electric Power Research Institute's (EPRI) research into using drones, also referred to as unmanned aerial systems (UAS), to evaluate damage to electric transmission and distribution systems after major storms.
The prototypes, the Aeryon Scout and the Adaptive Flight Hornet Maxi, are both rotary wing craft carrying high-resolution video cameras and digital cameras. They weigh less than 55 pounds and during tests were operated at heights less than 100 feet. They're designed to transmit real time assessments of power lines and other equipment that utilities could use to evaluate their condition. Flight tests directed by EPRI were conducted in Alabama earlier this month.
"The test flight results are an important step in determining whether UAS technology can be deployed to improve the accuracy and timeliness of utility storm damage assessment," said Matthew Olearczyk, program manager for distribution systems research at EPRI. "The images and videos from these flights clearly show the potential of these combined technologies. Continuing research will better determine which combinations of aircraft and payload could offer the best results.
EPRI also is working on integrating data and information gathered by the flying monitors with utility operations. "There is some really important work ahead in creating seamless interfaces with utility information technology systems, as well as the rapidly developing field force technologies such as tablet computers that some utility work crews are now carrying into the field," Olearczyk added.
EPRI researchers plan to use the results of the first flights in more test flights later this year after obtaining FAA approval.
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