Driving Innovation

It’s a Bird, it’s a Plane, it’s a Drone?

August 18, 2016

It’s been 18 months since ComEd became the first electric utility company to be granted permission by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to operationally use innovative, unmanned aircraft systems (UASs/drones), or aerial robotics. And what a busy 18 months it’s been.

“We’ve done a lot of planning, training and flying since receiving our FAA approval,” says Linda Rhodes, UAS program manager.

What does an energy company do with a UAS? ComEd uses the flying technology, which comes equipped with cameras to shoot video and take photos, to inspect parts of its more than 90,000 miles of power lines positioned high above ground. After a significant storm, this technology can help keep ComEd field personnel safe by its ability to fly over hazardous areas to inspect damage to electrical equipment.

“When it comes to ensuring safe and reliable power for ComEd customers, the sky’s the limit,” Rhodes says.

The use of ComEd’s UASs may even result in a benefit to area wildlife as was the case when ComEd’s Environmental Services Department requested a UAS to capture photos and videos of an osprey bird’s nest perched on a distribution tower in Summit, Ill. The department used the images to formulate a plan to protect the birds by removing the nest after the birds abandoned it, restoring power to the tower and covering it to prevent other birds from building nests on the tower.

ComEd employees, who are certified by the FAA, navigate ComEd’s four UASs. ComEd plans to expand its UAS capabilities by mounting infrared cameras and incorporate live streaming.

“We are using innovative technology to better serve our customers and communities,” Rhodes says. “As this program progresses, we expect to continue evolving and bringing even greater benefits in the future.”