UAV inspections: Using drones for powerline monitoring in India

October 22, 2016  - By

Drones could soon be inspecting powerlines in India, thanks to a partnership between Sharper Shape and Sterlite Power.

Sharper Shape, based in Palo-Alto, California, offers automated drone-based asset inspections. Sterlite Power is a power transmission company in India.

The Sharper Shape Sharper A6 drone is designed for beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) flights.

The Sharper Shape Sharper A6 drone is designed for beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) flights.

Sharper Shape has already spearheaded the adoption of long-distance commercial drone flights for utilities in Europe. In the U.S., Sharper Shape is part of the EEI Sharper Utility partnership, an industry collaboration aimed at demonstrating and developing commercial long-distance drone flights for electric companies.

As part of the cooperation, Sterlite Power will make a minority investment in Sharper Shape to foster Indian market growth and continued technology development. The companies signed a partnership agreement during Make in India Week in Mumbai in February, an event held to spur innovation, design and sustainability.

Sterlite Power and Sharper Shape are awaiting approvals from India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation for large-scale, long-distance inspection flights. Long-distance drone flights could provide significant benefits with safe, efficient and fast inspections compared to manned helicopter flights.

Utilities in India. The partnership also intends to provide services for other utilities in India. India has a power transmission network of more than a million circuit kilometers, which undergoes double-digit growth annually. The use of drones will increase the uptime of the grid, reduce transmission tariffs, avoid grid blackouts, and save the environment by reducing deforestation along the line corridors.

Sterlite Power has already introduced lidar for surveys and helicopters to avoid disturbances to farm activities and speed the process to commission much-needed infrastructure in India. Soon, it will deploy heli-cranes to erect transmission towers in the challenging terrains of Jammu and Kashmir.

In the United States…

In August, Sharper Shape  submitted a waiver application to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), requesting approval to perform beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) flights. The waiver would allow members of the Edison Electric Institute (EEI)-Sharper Shape partnership to demonstrate and develop commercial long-distance flights for electric company asset inspections.

BVLOS flights are able to travel 10–20 miles, compared to roughly 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 A6 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.

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