Following approval from Transport Canada, government-owned electricity generating company Ontario Power Generation (OPG) will deploy drones to monitor the resiliency of its power grid infrastructure and to quickly detect problems and restore power after storms and natural disasters.
The unmanned drone operations are currently in trial at the OPG facility at the McConnell Lake Control Dam in north-west Quebec.
Israel-based developer of autonomous drone technology Percepto will provide OPG with its drone-in-a-box solution, Percepto Air Max. Percepto’s autonomous drone solution seeks to provide OPG with the benefits of a remote, high frequency visual inspection, eliminating the need for human intervention.
Automated drone inspections can also be conducted faster and more frequently, enabling the creation of baselines and trend monitoring over time that make comparisons and measurements simpler and more accurate, according to Percepto’s co-founder and chief commercial officer Ariel Avitan.
“We look forward to gaining new operational and infrastructure insights at McConnell Lake Control Dam,” said Ontario Power Generation senior information system specialist, Tim Trebilcock. “Our hope is that this technology will help our efforts to ensure asset integrity and reliable electricity generation for Ontarians.”
Ontario Power Generation is responsible for approximately half of the electricity generation in Ontario.
Transport Canada approved Percepto’s Air Max Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations (operation of unmanned aerial vehicles and drones at distances outside the normal visual range of the pilot), following an assessment of potential risks to people and aircraft sharing that airspace.
Percepto uses an autonomous detect and avoid cycle that enables drones to automatically avoid other flying objects, said Avitan. He added that the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) in the U.S, where Percepto has been operating for four years, allowed the company to fly its drones 200 feet above ground (double the altitude of any previously approved drone operation in the U.S.) without a pilot or visual observer on site.
Percepto drone operations will be controlled remotely on the company’s AI-powered Autonomous Inspection and Monitoring (AIM) platform that translates key data gathered into immediately actionable insights on mission-critical maintenance issues, said Avitan.
Percepto’s drone-in-a-box systems have been “thoroughly stress-tested for 10 years”, and have built-in safety mechanisms within both their hardware and software, affirmed Avitan. “For example, our battery safety precautions include software closely monitoring drone power levels and proper usage and charging. Safety landing routines are also in place in the event of battery errors, including the automatic deployment of a parachute.”
Percepto also has a built-in weather monitoring system and site mapping software to ensure that the drones can safely navigate throughout any facility or weather conditions. In 2020, Percepto’s on-site drone was the first to pass level 5 hurricane testing at the Florida International University Wall of Wind, where it withstood winds of up to 150 mph (about 240 km/h).
Furthermore, the drones are capable of monitoring hard-to-access and hazardous assets, hence eliminating the need for staff to risk their safety to climb towers and equipment, especially during dangerous weather conditions.
An automated drone system also expands the eligibility for people to become infrastructure inspectors, stated Avitan. “A remote drone pilot can be any certified person with a drone license, opening up the job market to people with disabilities, for example.”
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