A severe storm caused power outages. A group of drones flies out of the charging stations located on the high-voltage pylons. They fly through the specified route and their cameras capture selected elements of the power line. The acquired shots are analyzed during the flight using machine learning and sent for final evaluation to the inspection staff. This allows them to immediately identify the location of the fault and initiate repairs in a much shorter time than is common practice.
This vision is very close to becoming a reality in the foreseeable future. Thanks to scientists from the Faculty of Electrical Engineering of the Czech Technical University who, in cooperation with the company ČEPS within the European project Aerial-Core, verify the practical possibilities of power line inspection with the help of flying robots. The current results of the research were demonstrated by the Group of Multirobotic Systems (MRS) from FEE CTU in the section of power lines in the Beroun region.
In addition to resolving sudden failures, both partners focus on robotizing preventive inspections of the entire extensive transmission system in the Czech Republic. Currently, the power line inspection is provided by a manned helicopter, which flies from one mast to another, and the crew prepares the documentation. A drone or even a coordinated team of drones can handle these tasks much faster and also cheaper. In the future, ČEPS wants to replace manned inspections with unmanned aerial vehicles, which may have varying degrees of autonomy.
It is the different degree of autonomy that is the characteristic that significantly distinguishes the individual drone systems. The basic level is represented by drones, which are controlled by the operator along a defined route. More advanced systems guide the drone separately according to pre-programmed GPS points. However, researchers from FEE CTU are pushing the level of autonomy much further.
The software, which they develop in the group of Multirobotic Systems using on-board artificial intelligence, is unique in that it is able to create a team of independently thinking cooperating drones, more precisely it would be say autonomous aerial robots. Fully autonomous drones use on-board sensors to refine their flight and adapt their behavior to changes in the environment. This increases the reliability, accuracy and quality of the data obtained. These drones can react to unexpected situations and are not surprised by obstacles in the way or fallen branches.
The goal of cooperation with ČEPS is to integrate a group of cooperating drones in the air so that they are able to control the infrastructure within a few kilometers and capture key elements such as insulators with high accuracy and repeatability. This is necessary to always take a shot from the same place and from the required angle, which is crucial for automatic inspection and monitoring of the development of the condition of individual components of the line over time.
One of the intentions of ČEPS is to replace air traffic control performed by helicopter with unmanned aircraft. The future of management controls then lies in drones flying fully automatically without direct pilot control on precisely defined and automatically generated flight paths. This should reduce the cost of maintaining the transmission system, increase the security of controls and, as a result, increase their standardization.
Drone, give me a screwdriver – alphabet of gestures for controlling the drone
Part of the demonstration in the Beroun region was also the cooperation of man and drone in the construction work on the line, in which the movement of robots in the air is controlled by human gestures. Drones are equipped with a camera and are able to perceive the gestures of their operator. In the university laboratories of the Multirobotic Systems Group in Prague’s Charles Square, they are working on the development of an “alphabet” that will clearly define the handling instructions.
They are cooperating with the University of Thessaloniki. In the future, it will be possible to use the system for the installation of larger parts of the line or the autonomous loading of auxiliary rope cables in places that are difficult for people to reach. This is another skill that operators will appreciate because it replaces human labor in difficult and dangerous conditions.
Involving robots in the field of distribution services so that they simultaneously meet the requirements for safe and effective cooperation with inspection and maintenance staff is a hot topic and is being addressed by operators throughout Europe. Drones have the potential to fundamentally change the current method of inspection and maintenance of line infrastructures such as power lines, but they are also offered for use in other public services or transport. The system, which is being developed by the MRS group, is part of the European Aerial-Core project, which is coordinated by the University of Seville, Spain. CTU participates in it as one of the key partners and CEPS is a member of the industrial advisory body.
Source: Aktuality – 2D a 3D CAD Design Software by www.cad.cz.
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