New drone from SDU is ready to inspect power lines

A team of researchers from the Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller Institute at the University of Southern Denmark has developed a smart drone with AI that can examine high-voltage cables for faults and corrosion.

Photo credit: Pixabay (free Pixabay license)

Denmark has more than 7,000 kilometers of high-voltage cables. To ensure the power supply in the sockets, the cables must be checked regularly for faults and corrosion.

Nowadays the inspection task is carried out by employees in forklifts or helicopters. However, this is expensive and involves risks due to the height.

Now researchers at the Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller Institute at the University of Southern Denmark have developed a smart drone to carry out the inspection.

Swarm around the cables

The drones should fly in swarms around the cables and continuously check for errors. When the drones find something that needs fixing, a message is sent to the owner of the cable. The drone automatically charges its battery in the magnetic field around the overhead line, which means that the inspection can largely be left to the drones themselves.

– In this way, we only have to send employees up in the air when there is a real need for repairs. This makes the maintenance of the lines considerably cheaper, says Lars Rasmussen, high voltage engineer and group leader at Energinet.

– Of course, the ultimate dream would be to achieve the same setup as a robotic lawn mower at home. This means a solution where the drones fly autonomously, check for errors, recharge and send reports home. We are very keen to make this happen, he explains.

The Grand Solution Innovation Fund project in Denmark, called Drones4Energy, arose from the Danish government's national drone strategy from 2016, which highlighted inspection tasks as an area with great potential.

After several years of development at the university and the SDU test facilities at the HCA airport in North Funen, the researchers are now ready to test the intelligent drone system in cooperation with Cerius, Energinet and other interested partners.

– The new drone will operate in a swarm system in which several of the new drones work together to inspect the power grid, explains Emad Samuel Malki Ebeid, Associate Professor and Project Manager at Drones4Energy.

– The drone detects the high voltage cable with the help of integrated sensors. It has built-in cameras that take pictures and an algorithm that detects and identifies the defects that the pictures may show.

– In order for the system to work continuously, it must charge itself. We have developed a solution for this in which the drone is charged from the magnetic field around the high-voltage line. That saves time and money, he says.

Invites new partners

The intelligent drones are used in a harsh environment. There are 230 volts in the sockets in our houses, but the voltage on the overhead line is 400,000 volts. This is enough for sparks to start and poses some challenges for the sensitive sensors with which the drones are equipped.

The team of scientists has therefore developed a special shield that protects the drone system even when it is flying very close to the cables.

– Now all elements have to be brought together and integrated, and we would very much like to enter into a dialogue with public and private actors who see potential in technology, says Emad Samuel Malki Ebeid.

Source: SDU

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