The US Army’s research lab has come up with a new drone sensor that is capable of detecting and avoiding live power lines nearby. Power lines are notorious for being undetected by autonomous drones.

The US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory has developed drone sensor and software to detect power lines. This is something that has been fairly hard to do in the past.

David Hull, an army researcher, has developed a new way to do this by using field and 3D sensors with low power-processing methods to detect the power lines.

Power lines are small and difficult to see with radar or optical sensors, but they generate large fields that can be easily detected with low-power, low-cost, passive electric- and magnetic-field sensors.

Hull came up with the new low-power, small, and low-cost solution, as existing technology costs a lot and is too bulky to be equipped to a drone with significant technical limitations.

This technology has significant dual-use potential and is expected to offer the military a better means for ground and air-based vehicles to avoid electric power lines when moving. It is also useful for mapping out power grids or locating damaged wires, after a hurricane, or as part of a nation-building effort. The same technology is beneficial to power companies that require routine and emergency inspect of many miles of power lines to detect tree encroachment, excessive sag, and other issues.

The US Army lab has announced a patent license deal with Manifold Robotics, who will begin producing the sensor package for use on commercial drones. Hopefully, we will see the technology trickle into the consumer drone market, adding an extra layer of security.

Manifold Robotics wants to create a power line detection system that uses the sensor to ensure the drone avoids the power lines while still being able to fly its mission autonomously. The team eventually hopes to see the sensor being used in automated power line inspections as well as improving the safety of beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flights.

Photo: Manifold Robotics

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