ComEd to use UAVs for electrical transmission line inspection

By Emily Aasand | March 04, 2015

Commonwealth Edison Company (ComEd), a Chicago-based energy provider, recently received approval from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to use unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to inspect its power lines.

According to the FAA, the exemption would, “allow ComEd to operate DJI Innovations S900 UAS for the purpose of electric transmission and distribution utility system monitoring, inspections and damage assessments.” 

“This UAS technology will allow us to be more proactive in identifying problems before they interrupt power to our customers,” said Terence Donnelly, executive vice president and COO of ComEd. “This will be especially useful in remote areas that can be difficult to access and will provide an added layer of safety for our workers by making it possible to inspect lines without sending a person into a hazardous area.”

ComEd will use UASs on a trial basis to inspect conditions of its transmission and distribution lines as well as substations. The project, the company said, is a joint effort with Illinois Institute of Technology. IIT will provide a licensed pilot for the partnership and is evaluating a light, flexible cage around the UAS that may maximize battery usage and protect the UAS, ComEd added.

“It’s exciting to be working with ComEd to study robots in real-word conditions,” said Matthew Spenko, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at IIT. “From a research perspective, this will allow us to learn more about how robots perform in unstructured, outdoor environments.”

ComEd is currently completing the required UAS training for its pilots, and hopes to launch the technology into the field in early summer 2015.

“The use of emerging technologies like UASs and other robotic technologies is an important factor in ensuring the continued resilience of the power grid,” said Donnelly. “We are continuing to seek out innovative technologies that will bring improved benefits to our customers.”


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