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SmartWing – Autonomous fixed-wing drone for smarter, safer, more cost-effective infrastructure inspection

SmartWing – Autonomous fixed-wing drone for smarter, safer, more cost-effective infrastructure inspection

The primary objective for this project is to develop an autonomous fixed-wing drone-based solution for powerline and pylon inspection that is safer, more cost-effective, and delivers better data quality than existing commercial solutions. SINTEF will contribute a new sensor suite and algorithms for detecting and tracking powerlines and pylons that will form the basis for onboard guidance.

Artificially coloured 3D point cloud captured via airborne LIDAR showing a distribution line running through hilly terrain and dense forest (data from hødedata.no, visualisation by SINTEF)

Power grid operators must regularly inspect and maintain their infrastructure to avoid equipment failures that could cause power outages. In fact, grid operators in Norway are required by law to inspect at least 80% of all line spans, pylons, and components every year. This is a demanding task – particularly in the Western part of Norway where power grids must traverse hundreds of kilometres of inaccessible terrain.

Today's inspections are typically performed visually – either by manned helicopter or by foot – which is time consuming, expensive, dangerous, and the quality of collected data depends on the individual operator/inspector. Remotely operated or autonomous drone technology promises to address the issues with manned inspection operations by offering a safer and more cost-effective solution with higher data quality.

KVS Technologies, in partnership with SINTEF and Lyse Elnett, will develop an autonomous fixed-wing drone platform capable of operational ranges of 100+ km and that can safely fly in close proximity to infrastructures beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) of the operator. Additionally, automatic data capture will give more consistent, higher quality data, enabling automated analysis workflows.

Fixed-wing drone platforms are necessary to achieve the operational range required for cost-effective coverage of the power grid. However, their high minimum flight speed introduces challenges for the safe BVLOS operation of these platforms at low altitudes. Onboard autonomy that allows the drone to precisely control its flight path and payload sensors relative to the target infrastructures and surrounding terrain is thus a key enabling factor for long-range automated inspection operations.

These innovations will enable KVS to develop an autonomous drone-based solution that offers grid operators such as Lyse Elnett a safer and more cost-effective alternative to current inspection operations.

Published 19 April 2021
Senior Research Scientist
+47 941 08 220

Project duration

2019 - 2021

Financing

RFF Vestlandet

Project Type

Research project 

Cooperation Partners

KVS Technologies (project owner), Lyse Elnett