Ameren Completes 60-Mile Drone Flight Beyond Line of Sight


With thousands of miles of high-voltage lines, Ameren Corp. is deploying drones beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) as a safer way to monitor its assets over rural territories.

Last month, the St. Louis-based energy company worked with Black & Veatch and Collins Aerospace to conduct a nonstop, 60-mile BVLOS flight to inspect its transmission lines using LiDAR-based data collection.

In 2017, a BVLOS drone was used to inspect nearly 10 miles of Ameren’s power lines near Newton, Ill. The 2018 flight, featuring a special-use, vertical takeoff and landing drone, went six times the distance of last year’s flight, according to the partners. Other project partners included the Northern Plains UAS Test Range, the University of Iowa’s Operator Performance Laboratory, Near Earth Autonomy, Latitude Engineering and pdvWireless.

“At Ameren, innovation is at the core of all we do, and the solutions we incorporate today, such as beyond visual line of sight drones, will enable us to continue to deliver safe, reliable and affordable energy to our customers tomorrow and for generations to come,” comments James Pierce, BVLOS program manager and lead of Ameren’s central unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) department. “We are pleased with the outcome of this 60-mile flight, which demonstrates our commitment to identifying advancements in drone technology to increase reliability and customer satisfaction. Ultimately, the successful deployment of BVLOS drones could revolutionize how Ameren assesses and evaluates the condition of our systems.”

The achievement represents the second and final phase of the project by the three companies.

“This project is a further confirmation that unmanned aerial vehicles can move utilities beyond reactive maintenance by quickly and safely acquiring condition and performance data about their assets, which will lead to improved operations and longer asset life,” says Jamare Bates, who heads UAS operations at Black & Veatch. “We can speed inspection time, reduce inspection costs and accelerate the integration of analyzed data into a client’s enterprise asset management system for improved decision-making.”

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