UK’s National Grid launches drone trial to fully automate asset inspections

House drone infrastructure inspection

UK’s National Grid Electricity Transmission (NGET) is launching trials to fully automate the corrosion inspection of electricity transmission pylons with the help of autonomous drones.

The year-long project, which is being conducted through a collaboration with deep tech startups Keen AI and, will leverage BVLOS drone flights. The data captured will be processed using artificial intelligence.

NGET owns 21,900 steel lattice pylons that carry overhead transmission conductor wires in England and Wales. Transmission pylon steelwork conditions can deteriorate through corrosion, so periodic assessments are made to understand the health of the network. NGET inspects around 3,650 steel lattice pylons each year, capturing high definition still color images of steelwork using helicopters and manually-operated drones.

At present, the images captured by the drones are also processed manually by a pool of inspectors.

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The trial project will enable a fleet of connected and autonomous drones to be flown BVLOS under license from the Civil Aviation Authority. NGET is quick to point out that automating data capture and processing for asset inspection offers significant benefits:

  • Enabling the capture of data that’s optimal for automated processing
  • Increasing the speed, efficiency, and consistency of data processing
  • Predicting the future state of a pylon and the impact of any maintenance work
  • Reducing the risk and environmental impact of data capture

Mark Simmons, conditioning monitoring manager at NGET, sums up:

Maintaining and investing in our transmission infrastructure is critical to a safe and reliable electricity network. Working with innovators like Keen AI and we are able to take real-time data and use it to predict when assets on our network need attention. This technology will be vital in the future as we connect more and more renewable and low carbon power, expanding our network and delivering world-class reliability. We look forward to the technology complementing the methods we currently use to help our operational teams manage safety, inspections, and maintenance.

Read more: TotalEnergies launches global drone methane emissions detection program

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