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Long distance drone monitoring one step closer to reality

BVLOS TEST DRONE

A power company in the United States has successfully conducted a test with a beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) drone flight to monitor power lines, paving the way for long distance remote monitoring of infrastructure.  

A team from Ameren, a power company based in St.Louis in the United States, have used a BVLOS drone to monitor almost 100km of overhead power lines in a single, non-stop flight. 

The advantage of using these long-range drones is the small unmanned vehicles can cover more miles, at less cost than traditional methods. These checks are normally carried out by manned helicopter flights, which can be dangerous as the aircraft must fly at low-levels near power lines. 

Ameren’s Central Unmanned Aircraft System department lead James Pierce said that widespread use of the drones would make delivering electricity safer and cheaper.  

“BVLOS drones will enable us to continue to deliver safe, reliable and affordable energy to our customers tomorrow and for generations to come,” he said. 

“We are pleased with the outcome of this 60-mile flight, ultimately, the successful deployment of BVLOS drones could revolutionize how Ameren assesses and evaluates the condition of our systems.” 

However, in the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules forbid the use of drones beyond an operator’s sight, meaning BVLOS drones such as the one deployed by Ameren aren’t currently able to be used on a wider scale in the United States.  

Black & Veatch and Collins Aerospace, who worked with Ameren on the test flight, obtained a specific FAA waiver to conduct the test. 

Despite the current legal restrictions, the test flight has shown that a drone can collect high-resolution infrastructure integrity data.

Current UK law is similar, drones cannot be flown over a maximum ceiling height of 400ft, no more than 500m from you horizontally, and must always remain within sight.  

This does not mean drones are not being utilised however, London-based drone specialist Sensat has used its fixed wing drones on major UK projects - including the largest UAV surveying job in the country for HS2.

Sensat drones flew entire 147Km of proposed route, covering 23km per day, to an accuracy of 30-50 mm.

The data collected by Sensat has also been used to generate 3D maps used to track construction workers to make sure they remain safe on site

Sensat fixed-wing drone

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