(Source: Regina Leader Post)
The drone, which was purchased from a Swift Current-based company for approximately $23,000 last November, is being tested by the Crown corporation to see if the technology can be of use to its workers.
So far, the three-person crew that’s been using the drone for inspecting switching stations in the southern part of the province say it’s lived up to expectations.
“Before this, we could only take ground photos. We couldn’t get up on top of transformers or buses or stuff while it is energized … and now we can take photos from above,” said Chad Schneider, a powerline tech with SaskPower’s transmission south department, and one of the drone’s pilots.
Two people take part in the operation of the drone. One mans the controls, watching what the drone sees on a computer screen, while the other makes sure it isn’t in danger of hitting any objects.
The drone is made of carbon fiber and weighs about 10 pounds. It can carry 25 pounds of equipment, including a digital SLR camera and an infrared camera to check for hot spots, which may show a loss in conductor tensile strength that can lead to power outages. It’s shown workers hot spots they might not have otherwise discovered.
Since it can fly up to six feet away from a transmission line, the drone’s photos are so detailed they can show workers if there are any missing bolts or loose pins.
During last spring’s flooding, the drone proved useful when structures went down in hard-to-reach areas surrounded by water.
“We couldn’t get close to it so we’ve run it out that way to take some aerial photos and get close to what’s going on (to) give us a better idea (of) what we’re up against,” said George Pyne, manager of transmission line construction and maintenance for the province.
Because the drone is flying on SaskPower’s own property, the company hasn’t had to get a licence from Transport Canada. However, it must adhere to a maximum flight ceiling of 492 feet.
The drone was designed and constructed by Chaos Choppers, which has sold drones to the RCMP, as well as international clients in Mexico and Vietnam. Monty Allan, the owner of the company, said pilots can usually get comfortable with flying the drone within half an hour. Allan said SaskPower wanted a drone that could take a few lumps and be easily repaired.
“They wanted something that would be really robust, something that can bang around because they do a lot of work off their quads,” said Allan.
This doesn’t mean SaskPower will stop using full-sized helicopters to monitor lines. The drone can’t cover as much ground because of its limited range of 1.6 kilometres, and can only run for 25 minutes on two battery packs.
Although the drone has come in handy, whether SaskPower decides to move beyond the testing phase and purchase more is still up in the air.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com