As Transpower's service provider, Ventia has had great success in improving inspections of high voltage power lines across New Zealand through the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones).

Use of drones has reduced costs associated with inspections and delivered improved safety outcomes through reduced reliance on helicopters and manual inspections.

Improvements in drone design and operations have allowed operators to now capture several kilometre's of power line each day. Whilst the increased capture rate has decreased the cost of capturing images, the cost of storing the relevant data has accelerated as a result.

Solving 'big data' challenges such as this is the genesis for Ventia's Engineering Services Next Generation Asset Management (NGAM) group. Engineering Services (formerly ICD Asia Pacific) is Ventia's engineering consulting business. Big data is a field that treats ways to analyse, systematically extract information from, or otherwise deal with data sets that are too large or complex to be dealt with by traditional data-processing application software.

Drone innovation at Transpower New Zealand project site

Combatting challenges with innovative solutions

As asset management increasingly expands from traditional areas of maintenance and controls into Internet of Things (IoT) and big data, there are new challenges associated with storing, paying for and analysing data.

One of these challenges is minimising the 'irrelevant' information that is captured, which can use a lot of data, and instead focusing on only what is needed. Whilst drone inspections present a lot of advantages, one of the challenges in this case is that the power lines are only a small part of the overall image that is captured.

In order to meet this challenge and ensure they were focusing on only what was relevant, Engineering Services worked closely with Ventia's Electricity & Gas group to utilise computer vision and machine learning technology to initially analyse the images that were produced by inspection drones.

To do this, machine learning tools were developed by the NGAM group to identify and isolate the relevant part of the image and discard the rest.

The result of this innovation is that file sizes have been reduced by over 90%, with an equivalent saving of storage cost now possible.

Engineering Services General Manager Trevor Walker said the solution was a great example of collaboration across the business, to solve a new challenge that had arisen.

'Using drones has been a game changer, but without the ability to adapt and innovate to meet new challenges that arise, new technology can only take us so far', he said.

"From a client's perspective it is reassuring to know that when we bring a new technology or practice to them, we have the team to be able to ensure it meets their needs and ultimately helps us deliver a better service."

Drone innovation at Transpower New Zealand project site