British grid operator wants high-voltage transmission towers inspected by autonomous drones

When it comes to inspecting high-voltage transmission towers using autonomous drones, the British grid operator, National Grid Electricity Transmission (NGET), has big plans.

The company wants to allow drones to fly independently around the masts and to have the obtained data interpreted fully automatically by means of AI. To this end, the grid operator has entered into a partnership with two AI startups.

Four objectives

NGET manages no fewer than 21,900 steel transmission towers that keep the power lines high in the air in England and Wales. These should be inspected regularly for corrosion. At present, this is still done by inspectors who collect images for this purpose by helicopter or manually controlled drones. In this way, they can inspect about 3,650 masts every year. The resulting inspection images are also analyzed by humans.

In the future, the grid operator wants to deploy autonomous drones that do their job out of sight of the pilot (). The analysis of the images must also take place fully automatically. To this end, NGET has entered into a partnership with the startups Keen AI and sees.ai.

The project includes the following four objectives:

  • Data capture optimized for automated processing;
  • Increase the speed, efficiency and consistency of data processing;
  • Predicting the future condition of a mast and the impact of any maintenance work;
  • Reduce the risk and environmental impact of data capture.

Autonomous drones are importance for the future

According to project manager Mark Simmons of NGET, the project is of great importance for the future:

“Maintaining and investing in our infrastructure is crucial for a safe and reliable electricity network. By partnering with innovators such as Keen AI and sees.ai, we are able to take real-time data and use it to predict when assets on our network need attention. This technology will be critical in the future as we connect more and more renewable and low-carbon energy, expand our network and deliver world-class reliability. We look forward to the technology that will complement the methods we currently use to help our operations teams manage safety, inspections and maintenance.”

Let us know in the comments below what you think about autonomous drones performing inspections of transmission towers. We are curious to hear your thoughts.

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Wiebe de Jager
Wiebe de Jager

Wiebe de Jager is the founder of Dronewatch and author of several bestselling books about drone photography. Wiebe is a certified drone pilot and has a full ROC license.

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