Drone & LiDAR Inspections Improve the Utility Industry: Here’s How

By Kate Steger, Business Development Representative

A wide variety of industries are utilizing drones in useful, creative ways to advance their business operations. Mining and aggregates are accurately measuring materials, landfills are calculating remaining airspace, and police are using drone tech to assist in search and rescue operations. And of course, Amazon is working on drone delivery services. Drones have proven their value and are only going to become more advanced and more useful as time goes on. But what about the electricity and utility pole organizations that serve our homes and businesses every day? As Firmatek continues to expand our capabilities, we’ve found a growing need for technology services in utility mapping.

Why Drone Solutions

So, how are these electrical companies using drones and LiDAR? Let’s look at  a specific scenario – hurricanes. After a hurricane, it’s very common for homes, schools, and businesses to lose power. Sometimes, it’s hours; other times, it’s weeks. In previous years, maintenance crews would have to climb up each pole and inspect it. With drones, this can be done in as little as half the time, and help companies restore power more quickly after a disaster.

Throughout the country, many companies today still don’t have access to the top of the poles, where rot and decay often appear. Today, drones can fly up, take a few pictures, and cut the inspection times approximately in half.  Not only is saving time a benefit, but we’ve now greatly reduced safety risks. With drones, we can have multiple sets of eyes on the inspection without maintenance crews even leaving the ground. Besides basic photogrammetry, LiDAR and thermal sensors have also come into play for the use of vegetation management in both cooperatives and transmission/distribution companies. Using the technology, companies can safely and efficiently inspect where trees are encroaching on utilities. Though LiDAR and vegetation management are not necessarily new to the utility industry, the technological advances have allowed it to now become an affordable tool for most.

We recently attended the Texas Electric Cooperatives Conference in Frisco, TX and had the opportunity to talk to many cooperatives and inspection companies. We wanted to learn whether or not they had begun utilizing data mapping and what  operational challenges they  are facing.  What we found is that while a few have begun to create their own drone programs, many do not know where to start. With so many different use case scenarios and so many different poles, it can seem like a daunting task. Therefore, many are turning to us to help them get familiar with the benefits of drone tech and create a process to get started using them. With our help, maintenance crews can begin learning how to use drone technology to inspect their poles.

Collecting Useful Data

After learning how to gather their data, the next big question is how to make it useful. We’ve heard many complaints that it’s just too much data to process. Sometimes, their computers even crash. With our in-house processing team, Firmatek has the ability to not only process data, but to provide analytics and actionable insight. Data is more than just a number. In order to improve operational efficiencies, our team works with you to tell you what the numbers actually mean. What differentiates Firmatek from our competitors is that we can filter out only what is useful and turn it into actionable analytics in any format requested.

As cooperatives across the nation are begin taking notice of the benefits in utility mapping, Firmatek’s nationwide team is ready to go. As for the future, many will learn to fly their own drones. The real challenge will always be effectively gathering the data with the right software and turning it into actionable insights. Data mapping providers, inspection services, and utility companies will continue to synergize their efforts, and seek optimum operational efficiency. As this happens, Firmatek will be there continuing our research and providing trusted industry solutions to better the world around us.

For more information on how Firmatek can assist you with your utility mapping needs, please contact Jeff Freund (Jeff.Freund@firmatek.com) or Kate Steger (kate.steger@firmatek.com).