Abstract-Improving Elec Utility Infrastructure

Improving Electrical Utility Infrastructure Reliability
with “Drone” Inspection Technology: Safer, Better, Cheaper!
Wesley J. Oliphant1, PE, AWS-CWI, F.SEI, F.ASCE
Principal, Chief Technology Officer, ReliaPOLE Inspection Services Company, Inc. / Advanced Aerial
Inspection Resources, Inc.
Phone: 713-851-5402; e-mail: woliphant@polesafety.com / woliphant@aairteam.com
Just as calculators and computers transformed those of us who were taught to use slide rules for engineering
calculations, I urge you to pay close attention. We are now in the early stages of another technical transformation
within our profession – the “drone revolution”. The FAA opened the door in the United States for the commercial
use of small, unmanned aerial systems (sUAS’s) in March of 2015. And what a transformation this appears to be
for the Civil/Structural Engineering community. We should all be excited as an industry because one of the
immediate applications of this exciting new technology appears to be the promise of significant, economical
improvements in the inspection of critical civil infrastructure – highway bridges, buildings, dams, oil and gas
pipelines, offshore oil and gas platforms, electrical transmission and distribution lines, and railroad tracks and
bridges. The list of what can and is now being done with “drones” goes on and on. There is no arguing the critical
importance of routine, detailed inspections and assessment of the condition of this nation’s critical infrastructure.
Our own organization, ASCE, spends a great deal of effort and resources grading our industry’s efforts with its
Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. And if we were still in college, we would be on Scholastic Probation with
the D+ we received on our last report card. A significant number of the “certificates of authorization” (COA’s) now
issued by the FAA for the commercial use of “drones” have been issued to firms wishing to perform inspections of
one form or another. This presentation will provide a case study of our own experience inspecting high voltage
electrical transmission lines and renewable energy facilities (primarily wind towers and blades), using “drone”
technology. This technology is clearly safer, less expensive, and provides far more detailed and actionable data
than traditional methods used for these inspections. New sensors and camera payload systems are rapidly being
developed that will even further transform the information we are able to obtain from these devices. With those
benefits, will we be able to improve our Report Card Grade? Only time will tell, but this exciting new technology
surely appears to be on the verge of causing a paradigm shift to those of us involved with the design, construction,
and inspection of critical infrastructure projects.