LiDAR and Drone Technology

In the energy sector, extreme ice, wind, and other events can often over-stretch conductors. Discrepancies between outdated manual records and actual field conditions meant that many conductors were not located and vulnerable to clearance violations. This was determined to be a major factor in the 2003 Northeast Blackout that left approximately 45 million people in the U.S. without power.

The use of airborne Light Detection And Ranging (LiDAR) technology has allowed utilities to rapidly survey more than 460,000 miles of transmission lines and use software to accurately find vulnerabilities in transmission lines under various meteorological and electrical loading events. As of mid-2014, over 50,000 discrepancies were identified, and more than 3,200 circuits have been completely remediated. This technology has greatly increased the reliability of our transmission grid.

Just as LiDAR technology has been truly transformative to electrical transmission line siting and design, the use of small unmanned aerial systems technologies, or “drones,” is also revolutionizing how utilities operate and maintain their overhead line infrastructure. Drones can gather real-time video, photographic, infrared, and other data from virtually any position above or around energized high voltage electrical transmission lines and structures while keeping the operator safely on the ground. The technology is still advancing, and these non-disruptive flights can become totally autonomous (no pilot required) with pre-programmed flying routes. In addition, the sensors have the potential to monitor and report everything from conductor temperatures, component stresses and strains, or deterioration due to continuing corrosion and wear-and tear.

For transportation agencies, drones can capture aerial footage to help show how a new intersection will work for drivers, and they are being tested for use in bridge and pavement inspections.