360° photography helps keep the lights on this winter

30th November 2017
Alice Matthews

In order to help keep power supplies resilient, technology inspired by Google Street View is being used to undertake inspections of remote overhead power lines. Britain’s largest electricity distributor, UK Power Networks, is testing a 360° photographic approach to safety inspections in the South East and East of England, capturing panoramic views of power lines to analyse from a computer back at base.

The trial could save engineers returning to trek back across fields and through villages to gain extra details after an initial routine line inspection has flagged up an issue that needs further investigation.

And the company is also looking to use recent images from Google Street View to check up on power lines in more populated locations visible from the roadside.

Cross-country foot patrols of UK Power Networks’ 46,000km of overhead power lines can be costly and time-consuming, covering miles of countryside in remote locations, searching for defects that could potentially cause a power cut, such as lightning damage or wear and tear.

The trial will test the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of using panoramic images, compared to repeated line patrols on foot.

Chino Atako, Senior Engineer at UK Power Networks, said: “The great benefit of this technology is that it gives us access to information that can assist our safety assessments and how we plan work to our network without having to send someone out to site every time. It means we can access the information we need anytime.”

The trial will first check how many of the 700,000 plus wood electricity support poles in the South East and East of England are sufficiently covered by Google Street View to allow their condition to be assessed from a desktop. OniGroup is carrying out the assessment of Google Street View coverage as part of this stage of the project.

If the image quality is good enough, researchers plan to devise a robust method for safety assessments using Google Street View. Where images are not available from the roadside, inspectors will strap on a backpack with a telescopic lens that captures 360° video or still imagery. Colleagues in the office, acting on the findings, will have the benefit of an inspector’s-eye-view of the situation from their computer.

Luke Griffin, Managing Director of Captura Surveying and Inspections, said: “A panoramic camera unit is attached to a back pack so the operative can walk cross country to capture 360° images of the world. It is a ten-minute job to get it going and the unit lasts up to eight hours. It can be used in an automatic or manual mode. This technology gives our client a virtual world view of their network to use across their whole organisation.”

The company aims to develop the system to include infrared sensors that can detect hidden defects and auto-recognition software to analyse faults on site.

The Energy Innovation Centre introduced the innovation to UK Power Networks after engaging with more than 2,000 innovators.

Tony Knowles, from the Energy Innovation Centre, said: “Captura Surveying and Inspections approached us with the idea of using existing technology to improve the efficiency of line inspections for UK Power Networks. We could see the possibilities of this technology to make network tasks simpler and enrich some of their processes.”

The trial is funded by £165,500 from Ofgem’s Network Innovation Allowance.

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