Below is a story from The Sun Chronicle, a newspaper based in North Attleborough, MA. The original article can be seen here.
Eye in the North Attleboro sky
Electric Department puts drones to work
NORTH ATTLEBORO – Forget the bucket truck.
On a cloudless Wednesday morning, perfect for an inaugural flight, the North Attleboro Electric Department became airborne.
The utility provider is using an unmanned aerial vehicle, more often called a drone, to gather information about its systems from the sky.
From the roughly 8-pound drone’s belly hangs a swiveling camera that sees in ultra-high definition at 4K and 16 megapixels – double the resolution of an iPhone camera.
The electric department keeps an exhaustive database of its infrastructure through a geographic information system that, until now, was based on images taken from the ground. They’re hoping the new perspective will help to discover and anticipate problems.
“I think that it offers the promise of some information we might not otherwise get,” electric department General Manager Jay Moynihan said. “When the information gets better and better, it becomes more of a tool when it comes to addressing outages.”
After a roughly $10,000 pilot program this week, the department will assess whether the technology is something it wants to employ long-term.
The electric department’s staff and partners gathered outside the headquarters Wednesday to see the drone’s maiden voyage. After a chirp, its propellers started to hum, and the aircraft rose straight up into the clear blue.
Soaring steadily over the cars passing below on Landry Avenue, the drone disappeared briefly into the sun’s glare as it headed toward a utility pole. When the drone reached its destination, it hung eerily still in the air above and snapped photos of the top of the pole.
“That is amazing, how it just hovers like that,” said Bob Bukin, the electric department’s general foreman.
The drone’s battery can keep it flying about 15 minutes with the camera and 40 minutes without.
A pilot can control the drone’s movement, or, with GPS-assisted positioning, it can go on a “preplanned mission.”
Either way, someone must have a line of sight on the machine, and it can’t fly after dark. Regulations from the Federal Aviation Administration also keep “unmanned aerial vehicles” below 400-foot ceiling.
“This is, for all intents and purposes, an aircraft,” said Allied Drones CEO Joshua Kornoff, who piloted the device using a controller with a tablet mounted to it.
The drone comes to the electric department through a collaboration with Hurley IR, a Maryland-based engineering company. In addition to high-definition pictures, it will be taking infrared images and corona images that can identify discharges.
Gretchen Christy, Hurley IR’s director of domestic sales, said the electric department has been “forward thinking” with it’s database, especially for a local utility, and has for years looked for new technology to improve reliability.
An aerial view isn’t just another perspective, she said.
“About 70 percent of rot starts at the top of the pole,” she said.
Whether or not the drone proves to offer long-term benefits, the demonstration made an impression.
“This stuff is so high-tech, it’s like a video game,” said Bukin, the foreman, who has worked at the electric department for about 35 years. “From where I came from to where things are now, it’s amazing.”