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“Drones are game changers for electric cooperatives.”


- DAVID SWANK, CREC CEO


new outage response unit, it will soar over storm-damaged areas, relaying images to on-the-ground teams in rugged all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) outfitted with equally sophisticated equipment. Video footage is simulta- neously streamed to analysts in the Systems Operation Center—CREC’s nerve center for operations during outages. When its battery dwindles after 18.5 minutes, like a homing pi- geon, the drone is programmed to return to base and juice up. In this case, “base” is an ATV, outfitted with battery chargers. As CREC CEO David Swank ex-


technology are developing at su- per-sonic speeds. Under the auspices of OSU’s new Unmanned Systems Research Institute (USRI), teams from across the University are devel- oping technology, conducting re- search and constructing otherworldly machines with enough collective “Oh, wow” factor to fill Boone Pickens Stadium. Directing the work is Dr. Jamey


plains, the drone’s ability to see up, down, and around allows the co-op to see into areas impassable due to downed trees, debris, icy roads, flood- water or other obstacles. “Drones are game changers for electric cooper- atives,” Swank says. He makes his case by citing the December 27 ice storm that left half the state without power for up to two weeks. Following the storm, boggy roads forced CREC to hire bulldozers to drag their bucket trucks to affected locations. “The drone’s ability to see blind sections and


relay images back to us is invaluable. With that information, we will know better what to expect and exactly where to allocate our resources before our trucks even leave the warehouse,” Swank says.


Had Responder been on board during the ice


storm, he adds, it could have reduced member outage time by half.


Jumping In


When questioned about the current regulatory environment and CREC’s ability to use its drone effectively, Swank agrees in part with Krueger. “Certainly, FAA regulations supersede a co- op’s ability to use drone technology in the most proactive way,” he points out. On the other hand, CREC’s position is, why


wait? 8


Video footage from the UAV is live streamed and reviewed by analysts in CREC’s systems operation center.


“We believe there is a way to use this technol- ogy now,” Swank says. “Our effort here is to put an engineering model in place that meets the regulatory environment where it is.” Working in unison with the ATVs and person- nel on the ground, the Power Support Responder is compliant with current FAA rules, but to fully integrate the drone into its daily operations, CREC requires a special exemption for commer- cial use from the FAA. CREC is currently await- ing an exemption with hopes to receive the permit later this year—just in time for the co-op to welcome a second flying machine to its fleet. The S1000 octocopter promises even bigger and better performance, says David Freeman, CREC director of systems intelligence. More important- ly, its design allows for a more customized pay- load. For instance, an infrared camera outfitted with digital zoom. “The thermal camera will show us where hot spots are along our system. It will help us detect cracked insulators and identify other mainte- nance needs along our lines,” Freeman says. Future ‘bells and whistles’ could include 3D imaging to reveal vegetation encroaching on the right of way, ultraviolet cameras to detect arcing, or radio frequency sensors capable of picking up noise emission from electrical equipment. That’s not everything: Applications for drone


Jacob, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and executive director of the USRI. Jacobs says the USRI aims to foster a collaborative environment where students and ac- ademics of various applied science disciplines can come together, share knowledge and build, in layman speak, some very cool stuff.


UAVs capable of flying into gathering storms


to take thermodynamic measurements and other indicators of killer tornadoes; ocean crawlers that dive to the deepest depths to explore and record life; software that allows unmanned vehicles to detect and avoid obstacles—a bird, a whale, a plane—virtually anything that crosses their path. As far out as it sounds, these and other devel- opments are not long away. “Imagine a car hits a power pole. The impact


triggers a signal to a UAV at co-op headquarters that takes off on its own, flies to the impact loca- tion, surveys the damage, and communicates that information back to co-op headquarters,” Jacob says.


Imagine a UAV capable of flying in an ice storm while spraying de-icer over the power lines. Imagine if its wings also served as solar panels, soaking up energy from the sun and providing hours of uninterrupted fly time. Imagine a line- man could avoid one more dangerous climb up a utility pole by sending a UAV to inspect dam- ages first. Imagine a world without power outages. These aren’t pipe dreams; they are possibilities.


For electric co-ops and their members, the future looks very fascinating, indeed.


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