Utility Inspections Using Drone Technology

The city of Niles, Michigan sees drones as the new “wave of the future”.

They have purchased a new aircraft, weighing 10 pounds with four motors and 17-inch propellers. The city plans on using it to inspect wires, poles, and all other aspects of the utility system.

The drone features two cameras and the images from both can be superimposed when needed. The cameras also include thermal and zoom imaging features which will help detect equipment defects before they become worse. This is expected to save the city $26,000 per year.

“Niles is in a unique position to make use of drones under Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules because of its class of airspace and having its own airport, issues that could hinder other municipalities. The drones we now have, tomorrow everyone will have,” said Jeff Dunlap, utility manager.

The technology will allow electric utility workers to stay safe on the ground and use the unmanned aerial device instead of physically inspecting dangerous areas. The city will also be able to conduct inspection scans more often at a lower cost.

Niles recently experienced two back-to-back power outages which were caused by a failed insulator. Dunlap believes this issue could have been easily resolved with the help of thermal imaging if they had a drone at the time.

The drones purchased will also be used for search and rescue efforts. Dunlap recalled an incident where a patient walked away from an Alzheimer’s unit and 30 employees spent two days searching for him. “The drone can be programmed to fly a grid with thermal imaging, we could have probably done it in 20 minutes,” he said.

The drone has currently been used for 60 assignments this year and continues to play a vital role in inspecting and spotting defects around the city.

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