Leidos scientists are teaching drones to inspect the power grid
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Leidos scientists have demonstrated drone technology that can quickly assess damage to the power grid in the aftermath of severe weather.
In a recent collaboration with a major energy customer, Leidos scientists tested a prototype drone fleet that works as a data collection unit, equipped with LiDAR sensors and artificial intelligence (AI) to assess damage along countless miles of power lines, poles and other assets.
Why you should know: Extreme weather events like winter storms, hurricanes and wildfires are punishing the nation’s energy grid.
These events, which are becoming more and more frequent, cause ruinous damage to the grid that requires countless hours of labor to inspect.
Josh Wepman, a Leidos energy expert, said many utility companies he’s spoken with identify storm damage assessment as one of their most pressing challenges.
“Recent surges in severe weather events have only made the problem worse,” Wepman explained. “It’s taking more and more time and putting workers at greater risk to assess the damage caused by huge, destructive storms like we’re experiencing across the globe.”
How it works: Wepman and his team equipped commercial off-the-shelf octocopters with LiDAR sensors to identify damage, and AI autonomy software to enable drones within the fleet to communicate, work collaboratively and adjust their tasks accordingly.
“The differentiator for Leidos is that these drone fleets don’t rely on a single pilot running a single drone,” he said. “It’s a faster, more efficient and scalable inspection capability that allows our customers to respond to the accelerating impacts of climate change.”
Results: Wepman and his team demonstrated that while one drone flown by a human pilot can inspect roughly 5–7 miles per day, a fleet of 6-8 drones run by AI can inspect roughly 200 miles per day.
“It’s far from done,” Wepman said, “but we’ve demonstrated a proof-of-concept that works. It’ll take some work to commercialize this service, but that’s the path we’re on.”