UAV companies team with utilities on long-distance drone tests

September 9, 2016  - By

Sharper Shape has submitted a waiver application to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), requesting approval to perform beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) flights.

In coordination with the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) and SkySkopes, a drone service provider in North Dakota, the waiver would allow members of the EEI-Sharper Shape partnership to demonstrate and develop commercial long-distance flights for electric company asset inspections.

In addition to submitting one of the first waiver requests, Sharper Shape and SkySkopes are working with Xcel Energy, Montana-Dakota Utilities Co., Minnkota Power Cooperative, Houston Engineering, Northern Plains Railroad, University of North Dakota and the Edison Electric Institute to conduct test flights.

BVLOS flights are able to travel 10–20 miles, compared to roughly 1,500 feet (one-third of a mile) under visual-line-of-sight regulations.

The test flights will leverage Sharper Shape’s new Sharper A6 drone and Sharperscope 5.0 payload. The Sharper A6 drone is optimized for BVLOS asset inspections, using four redundant cellular networks to make it virtually impossible for the drone to lose communication with ground-control operators, the company said.

The Sharper A6 from Sharper Shape.

The Sharper A6 from Sharper Shape.

Sharper Shape leverages the LTE commercial multi-billion-dollar networks, while other vendors use point-to-point (P2P), which cannot communicate beyond line of sight, or satellite connection, which suffers from high costs and invariable latency which increases the response time and impedes a pilot’s ability to make quick adjustments during the flight.

The A6 drone can collect a comprehensive variety of useful data (including information from its high-definition cameras, infrared sensors, corona detector, lidar sensor, etc.), and is to this day the only platform capable of doing so in a single flight. The sensors have been carefully selected and integrated into the Sharperscope 5.0, a system that Sharper Shape has engineered specifically for electric company BVLOS inspections and which syncs directly to the Sharper Shape cloud.

In conjunction with submitting the waiver application, SkySkopes and Sharper Shape kicked off a string of test flights including:

  • The first flight using the new Sharper A6 drone via a line-of-sight demonstration to inspect the Xcel Energy Bison Substation
  • A final flight with a fleet of drones to celebrate the day’s events.

“These test flights have contributed to a monumental day for the U.S. drone industry,” said SkySkopes President and CEO Matt Dunlevy. “We look forward to continuing to pioneer new developments for drone flights in the U.S. alongside Sharper Shape.”

Sharper Shape, EEI and SkySkopes are optimistic to test BVLOS flights in the U.S. by the end of the year.

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1 Comment on "UAV companies team with utilities on long-distance drone tests"

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  1. William K. says:

    This seems like a well-defined application for a package able to go far beyond the line-of-sight. In addition utilities are much more likely to insist on pilots operating in a safe and responsible manner. So aside from the benefit of this particular system being able to deliver a valuable service, it will also serve as a reference of the benefits available.
    And my guess is that none of the inspection operations need any altitude above 500 feet, so there should be no potential danger to aircraft at any time.