Southern Company Aerial Services and Mississippi State University’s Raspet Fight Research Lab recently reached a milestone on their research project that will help expand the energy company’s use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to map critical infrastructure, assess weather-related damage and conduct routine utility inspections.
Mississippi Power President and CEO Anthony Wilson attended the flight demonstration in Bay Minette, Alabama, with Distribution General Manager Melvin Roland and Transmission General Manager Stephen Schruff.
“This research work is a game-changer,” said Wilson, who is also the chair of the Mississippi State University Foundation. “The data and knowledge we gain through this partnership will help improve safety and reliability, reduce costs and enable us to respond quicker should incidents on our system occur.”
The Aerial Services and MSU team showcased the drone capabilities and sensor technologies and gathered data that will contribute to their large UAS operations research project. They flew 28 miles which included approximately 400 transmission structures.
“The clarity of the images and the amount of information that can be obtained from these flights is really remarkable,” Roland said. “The potential and multi-use capabilities this technology brings is exciting to see.”
The team utilized a helicopter with a high-resolution camera and gimbal technology that served as the bridge for evaluating the UAS technology and looking at potentially transferring the camera to the large drone in the future.
Several other stakeholders were in attendance from both Southern Company and Mississippi State University.
The collaboration between Southern Company and Mississippi State’s Raspet Flight Research Laboratory will enable the use of larger, more sophisticated UAS in pursuing beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the energy company’s inspection and mapping efforts.
“Allowing beyond visual line of sight operations will enable us to use drones in ways we’ve never been able to previously to reach areas that are difficult to access and get a lot of helpful information,” Schruff said.
The next steps for the team are to determine onboard sensor systems enabling those UAS to effectively detect and avoid other aircraft in surrounding airspace. They will also work to enhance communications with the UAS to allow communications from a further distance.
The Aerial Services UAS team also recently announced that the FAA has granted Southern Company approval to remotely launch and operate drones at Alabama Power's James M. Barry Electric Generating Plant.
The waiver, the first of its kind obtained by the company, allows advanced BVLOS operations. Operators will use drones to map and inspect stacks, transmission lines, and basins at its Plant Barry facility. Compared to traditional manual inspection methods, remotely operated dock-based drones will help perform safer, more efficient recurring inspections of critical infrastructure.
Now in its 97th year of operations, Mississippi Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company (NYSE: SO), produces safe, reliable and affordable energy for more than 191,000 customers in 23 southeast Mississippi counties. Mississippi Power was honored with a Community Partner Impact Award from the Center for Energy Workforce Development for its innovative and ongoing efforts to build a diverse workforce. The Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve recently recognized Mississippi Power for its commitment to its military workforce. Mississippi Power has nearly 160MW of solar capacity at four locations across the company’s service territory, including Southern Company’s first project to combine the latest, cutting-edge solar technology with battery storage. Visit our websites at mississippipower.com, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube.