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Pushing the Boundaries | IR Drone Inspections

 Infrared (IR) Inspections produce vital data for quality assurance and target detection within Electrical Substations. IR sensors reveal temperature differences of target areas and quickly identify potential hazards that can be addressed. Sky Scape Industries (SSI) deploys drone technology to address the needs for substation IR inspections. By equipping a drone with the adequate IR sensors and executing advanced data processing methods, SSI is able to accurately map and inspect substations safely and efficiently.

Combine Ideas with Technology : IR and Photogrammetry

     SSI conducts Infrared inspections through a method involving the use of photogrammetry. Of course, it's quite obvious that during an inspection you want to document through photographs and/or video. But how can make inspections more valuable? What can we do to produce better results? We found an answer through a process called Photogrammetry. 


 Photogrammetry is a 3-dimensional coordinate measuring technique that uses photographs as the fundamental medium for metrology (or measurement). The fundamental principle used by Photogrammetry is triangulation or more specifically called "Aerial Triangulation." By taking photographs from at least two different locations, so-called “lines of sight” can be developed from each camera to points on an object. These lines of sight (also called rays) are mathematically intersected to produce the 3-dimensional coordinates of the points of interest.

Graphical Representation of Photogrammetry Triangulation process.

    Photogrammetry is typical involved in visual sensing for GIS applications. We decided to take this method a step further and incorporate the radiometric (temperature) data from RAW IR data and accurately process them into a seamless (Geospatial) Radiometric IR Maps.

Safety Benefits of Drone workflow in Substations

SSI technology and workflow offers safety and efficiency attributes in multiple facets as a result of our IR Inspection Method. Such attributes include:

Human maintains safe distance from Substation Components (live or dead)

ZERO access needed inside substation perimeter. All flight ops and mobilization are conducted from the outside of the perimeter, eliminating the need for an escort.

Safety and Redundancy systems of airframe combined with altitude of flights allow for safe operations away from components and proven mitigation plans in case of accident.

Theories Applied

    In order to engineer a process that successfully uses photogrammetry techniques to create a radiometric IR map, SSI began testing on an authorized substation with one of their clients. The ~20 acre site (below) poses as a suitable test bed in that there are many dynamic components and is large enough to test current drone regulations involving infrastructure and inspection flight limitations. 


Apx. Size: 20 Acres

Weather: 74 degrees, overcast

Mission Results

Total In-Field Time 5.05 Hours

Total Processing Time 10.50 Hours

Raw Images Collected: 487

Approx. Image Coverage: ~22.3 Acres

Resolution of Map: 6.5 cm/pixel

Geospatial Accuracy: <1’ of Satellite Imagery

Total Planning Time 2.00 Hours

Total In-Field Time 5.05 Hours

Total Processing Time 10.50 Hours

Final Map Result

     Below you will see a final processed map. The radiometric mapped was successfully processed, exceeded accuracy expectations, and is fully integratabtle with all major GIS software platforms. The client now has the ability to navigate throughout the data, quickly identify key temperature deltas, and identify temperature metadata of every pixel within the map. 

Final Map Result

     According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), there were over 2,500 electrical utility related injuries in 2015, 130 of which were fatal. Due to the nature and complex environment of a substation, safety and risk mitigation while conducting an inspection are paramount.  Drone Technology allows us to remove people from  a the line of fire by complimenting current inspection methods from the air.

     Substation inspection frequency varies by a number of factors; location, state/federal regulation, nature of substation responsibilities, history/trends of substation issue, etc. In order to increase safety and reduce costs, drone/IR technology proves that routine/general inspection processes can be conducted versus manned inspections. If drone technology can effectively replace routine inspections and deliver actionable data, utility companies only need to send terrestrial assets in after  an issue is identified.

     Furthermore, because of the streamlined time of data delivery (post deployment and processing), utilities now have the ability to increase quality assurance programs by inspecting substation assets more frequently. As technology evolves and federal regulations change, Sky Scape will be able to conduct Infrared Substation Inspections even more efficiently.

This Infrared Mapping Technology can be implemented in not only electric utilities, but also has applicability in all of our verticals. If you would like to learn more about this capability, feel free to contact us! 

Work Safe!

Nate Ernst

President, Sky Scape Industries

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