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Drones

New drone from SDU is ready to inspect powerlines

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

By Jane Thoning Callesen, , 1/19/2021

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

Today, the inspection task is performed by employees in lift trucks or helicopters, but that is expensive and involves risks due to the height.

Now, researchers from the Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller Institute at the University of Southern Denmark have developed an intelligent drone to carry out the inspection.

Swarms around the cables

The drones are to fly in swarms around the cables and continuously check for faults. If the drones find something to be repaired, a message is sent home to the owner of the cable. The drone automatically recharges 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 need to send employees up in the air when there is a real need for repair. This will make it significantly cheaper to maintain the lines, says Lars Rasmussen, high-voltage engineer and group leader at Energinet.

– The ultimate dream, of course, would be to achieve the same setup as with a robotic lawnmower at home, meaning a solution where the drones fly autonomously, check for errors, charge, and send reports home. We are very interested in implementing this, he states.

In this way, we only need to send employees up in the air when there is a real need for repair. This will make it significantly cheaper to maintain the lines

Lars Rasmussen, high-voltage engineer

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

After several years of development at the university as well as SDU’s testing facilities in HCA Airport in North Funen, the researchers are now ready to test the intelligent drone system in collaboration with Cerius, Energinet, and other interested partners.

Facts about the drone

  • The new drone is built of composite materials.
  • It flies autonomously while visually inspecting high-voltage masts and wires, and it charges wirelessly from the magnetic field of the cables.
  • Its built-in AI algorithm detects errors and stores relevant data. It also features a communication system that makes it possible to send status messages between individual drones, and from a drone to the ground control system.
  • The researchers have also built a shielding solution so that the drone can fly very close to and grasp into the high-voltage cables.

– The new drone will operate in a swarm system, where several of the new drones collaborate to inspect the electricity grid, explains Emad Samuel Malki Ebeid, associate professor, and project manager of Drones4Energy.

– The drone detects the high voltage cable using onboard sensors. It has built-in cameras that take pictures and an algorithm that recognizes and identifies the errors that the pictures may show.

– For the system to function continuously, it must recharge itself. We have developed a solution for this, where the drone recharges from the magnetic field around the high-voltage line. That will save time and costs, he says.

Invites new partners

The intelligent drones will be operating in a harsh environment. There are 230 volts in the sockets in our homes, but the voltage on the overhead line is 400,000 volts. That is enough for sparks to strike, and it creates some challenges for the sensitive sensors the drones are equipped with.

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

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

Photo: Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller Institute

Workshop

On Thursday 21 January 2021, the Drones4Energy project will host a workshop with international energy companies on drones for powerline inspection and the new technologies. Feel free to reach out to Emad Samuel Malki Ebeid for more information and registration at esme@mmmi.sdu.dk.

Meet the researcher

Emad Samuel Malki Ebeid has a PhD. from The University of Verona in Italy and is now an Associate Professor at the SDU UAS Centre at the Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller Institute. His area of research interests includes intelligent system design and heterogeneous embedded systems for aerial robotics. He is a Senior IEEE member and the project leader of the IFD Drones4Energy and EU H2020 Drones4Safety projects.

Contact

Drones4Energy

Drones4Energy is a three-year Grand Solutions project supported by the Innovation Fund with a total budget of DKK 19 million. SDU IMADA, German Fraunhofer, Develco, Aarhus University, Geopartner Inspections, Energinet, CERIUS, and Science Ventures Denmark are among the partners in the project.

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Editing was completed: 19.01.2021