The value of active camera tracking for utility inspection


UAS is revolutionizing the utility industry

The use of uncrewed aerial systems (UAS) is revolutionizing the utility industry by improving the speed and efficiency of line inspections. One of the primary benefits of UAS inspection is the quality of images delivered by the state-of-the art cameras affixed to the drones.

Obtaining high-quality RGB images from UAS inspection of the power infrastructure is largely dependent on flight capabilities such as speed and altitude, as well as whether the camera is gimbal-controlled or fixed static to the aircraft.

Multicopter versus helicopter

For example, a helicopter performing linear inspections needs to fly at cruising speed (minimum 30-35 mph) to optimize fuel consumption. Capturing high-quality images at this speed requires a high spec camera – likely 150 megapixels, but this high resolution generates extremely large amounts of data that can lead to storage issues and processing delays. In fact, the amount of data generated can be up to 10 times what is produced by a typical 60-megapixel drone camera. However, the drone’s lower resolution camera should not be considered a downgrade. Because a multicopter UAS flies at a lower speed, usually around 22 mph, the image quality is optimized because the camera is allowed enough time to complete a proper auto-focus per point of interest – resulting in a more targeted, informative image of each asset. Flight altitude is also important for producing higher resolution to maximize the detail of the images. Compared to the helicopter which typically flies at 200-250 feet above ground, UAS can fly arial inspections at lower altitudes (100-150 feet above ground) and the lower and closer perspective results in higher quality data and images.

Active camera tracking allows for targeted, focused capture of each individual asset, resulting in higher quality images.

Using a drone in place of a helicopter is not the only factor to consider when looking to enhance data capture for line inspections. Quality can be further improved when the camera is installed on a smart gimbal – a mechanism that allows the camera to move and rotate independently of the aircraft. This is often referred to as active camera tracking and allows the operator to aim the camera at the individual points of interest (assets) to ensure that all required details are captured in the image. Further enhancement can be achieved by combining active camera tracking with AI and automation. By utilizing a pre-determined flight plan that includes individual asset GPS positions, images are more consistent and comparable because the shot is taken at the same distance and angle every time.

Executing a more proactive maintenance model, responding faster during emergencies

Effective asset management operations are critical to maintaining the energy infrastructure and reducing downtime and outages. Implementing a UAS inspection program allows utility providers to execute a more proactive maintenance model and respond faster during emergency situations. When considering options for a UAS service provider, it is important to understand the technical features of the image and data capture system to optimize the value of drone inspection – including the value and availability of active camera tracking to ensure best results.