While regulators hammer out rules for utilities using aerial drones, some power providers have figured out how to put unmanned vehicles to use on the ground—or underground—for home energy inspections.
A recent article in Electric Coop, the weekly newsletter of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, highlighted a custom-made drone being used in Indiana to inspect members’ crawl spaces.
Home inspectors know that doing an energy audit can be hard on the back and knees and sometimes involve close, personal contact with spiders, rodents, snakes or standing water. A co-op energy adviser at Hendricks Power in Avon, Indiana, realized that robot technology might be able to eliminate the worst of the job.
Steve Hite developed a drone that carries a digital camera and transmits real-time video and still images to a laptop screen. Inspection Bots, a Colorado-based vendor and customizer, built “Robbie” for the co-op in 2015, and it has been used in dozens of audits since then.
According to inspectors who have used Robbie, it is similar to operating a remote control car. The device enters the crawl space through the door and provides a thorough visual inspection while the energy advisor operates it from above. “The drone has two speeds and seems to move through crawlspace areas with ease,” said Hite.
Homeowners can watch the inspection and discuss the findings with the auditor as it occurs. Hite said he sometimes allows the member to take the controls, if they are interested (who wouldn’t be?). Hendricks Power has also loaned the drone to other co-ops in the area to use in their home inspections.
Using robotic technology for overhead power line inspection will have to wait for the future, but with a little innovative thinking, drones can be improving efficiency, safety and customer service today.
Source: Electric Coop, 10/31/16