Texas Utility Brings in UAVs, Image-Pattern Software for Inspections

Austin Energy – a publicly owned electric utility and a department of the City of Austin, Texas – is using drones in a research project to test image-pattern recognition software to detect worn and damaged equipment.

The unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will inspect transmission lines in North Austin throughout the day tomorrow. The drones will fly within the Austin Energy right-of-way for transmission lines.

The utility is working with the IC² Institute Global Commercialization Group at the University of Texas at Austin, which promotes the growth and development of innovative, technology-based businesses in a variety of regions worldwide.

IC² is working with an Indian company that has developed an application to rapidly identify defects through image-pattern recognition and apply that capability to inspecting transmission towers, lines and components.

Using an image-pattern recognition algorithm, the researchers compare these images to images of new transmission equipment. The algorithm automatically identifies damaged tower components, hotspots and coronas – without human intervention.

However, says Austin Energy, the software also requires skilled UAV pilots who are able to successfully navigate the electromagnetic fields from the transmission lines that can also cause the UAVs to lose their GPS orientation. Thus, the IC² project is using commercial drone pilots licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration.


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