drone pilot industryUnleash live to use AI and drones to monitor power lines in NSW tech trial

September 21, 2021by helo-10

But there’s a snag.

Despite the government backing of the trial, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) does not permit drones to be flown beyond the line of sight of a qualified drone pilot, and so Endeavour Energy’s electricity distribution network, spanning some 47,000 kilometres of power lines to the south and the west of Sydney, cannot simply be patrolled and analysed automatically, by drones controlled by Unleash Live’s AI.

Humans have to watch the drones, too, with hand-held radio controllers that can take over control when there is a problem.

That slows the inspection process down by roughly a factor of 10, Unleash Live co-founder and CEO Hanno Blankenstein told The Australian Financial Review.

“The point of the next 12 months is to prove out (the system) with a pilot on the ground for safety reasons, and then go back to CASA and say ‘we’ve proven that this is safe and secure, let us go beyond line-of-sight’,” he said.

The ideal scenario, Mr Blankenstein said, would be to have charging stations on top of power poles, so drones could fly from pole to pole, recharge themselves every 10km or so, and then continue on, all controlled by AI and all without human intervention.

The authority had already indicated it was open to applications which go beyond the line of sight of a pilot, if they could be proven to be safe, and Mr Blankenstein said he was optimistic the regulations will be changed.

Mr Ryan at Endeavour Energy said he was hoping the drones would be given a longer range by CASA, too, because timely inspection of the electricity infrastructure was only getting more important, and “drones can help a lot”.

“We’re seeing a lot more threat to our network than we’ve ever seen before, with bushfires, with storms, with floods. They’re getting more severe, they’re getting more frequent.

“But at the same time our customers are getting more and more dependent on electricity.

“So this trial is around climate change, and having a resilient network. It’s a nice step in the right direction. It helps to give use cases which then might lead to a relaxation in regulation.”

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There is more to being a drone pilot than just buying a machine and flying in your backyard. It can be that simple, but most of us will need to understand some drone laws before we try to take to the sky.


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