Florida Power Adopts Drone Technology


In an effort to ensure the safety of its workers while simultaneously inspecting plant areas, Florida Power & Light Co. (Juno Beach, Florida) has been recently reported to adopt drone technologies at its facility.

Specifically, two 22-pound drones that the company refers to as "drone in a box" technology which can be easily deployed up to two miles away from their landing stations just outside of FLP’s Next Generation Clean Energy Center, outside Gate 8.

With just the press of a button from a laptop, TC Palm reports that the drones—flown by any of the company’s 30 Federal Aviation Administration-certified pilots—launch 160 feet up into the air, avoiding any potential obstacles, and follow a pre-programmed route over FPL’s transmission corridor.

FLP tells reporters that the drones can fly up to 20 times a day and during their flights, will take various photos and videos. However, to prevent overheating, the drones are charged within the unit in air-conditioned areas.

"For a utility to be able to see our infrastructure in areas where we can't get to safely, to quickly fly over it and understand what our conditions are ... ," Michael Dorr, FPL's senior drone pilot said. "Safety of our crews is paramount, so this gives us a bird's-eye view of what's going on."

Along with having their pilots all certified by the FAA, the company has also been granted permission to fly the drones beyond the pilot's line of sight. The permission is a first for any utility in the country and the only company to even use the technology, says Eric Schwartz, manager of FPL's aerial intelligence response—nicknamed FPL AIR.

Dorr adds that by being given this privilege, an ease has been reached in regard to checking and inspecting the facility's power lines, solar panels and other areas at the plant.

"We can fly every single day and use image recognition to be able to identify a potential issue and reduce the number of outages to our customers," Schwartz said.

Moving forward, FLP intends to put a drone-in-a-box at every substation, transmission yard, plant and solar facility. Already, there are plans in the works to incorporate the technology at locations in south Miami, one in St. Lucie and one in Indian River counties.

“It's part of FPL's future,” Schwartz concluded.

Drones in the Industry

While the technology has been introduced some years ago, many aaproved-uses of drone technology have been adopted in just the last year.

Starting in January 2019, inspectors from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration authorized to use drones for workplace inspections. In fact, OSHA wrote in a May 2018 memorandum that unmanned aircraft systems “may be used to collect evidence during inspections in certain workplace settings, including in areas that are inaccessible or pose a safety risk to inspection personnel.”

By the summer, PaintSquare Daily News reported that Japan-based ready-mix and precast producer Aizawa Concrete Corporation was working in partnership with aerospace company Top Flight Technologies Inc. (Boston) in an effort to utilize its robotic technology for inspections needed to maintain various concrete roads, bridges and infrastructure.

To achieve this goal, the companies leveraged both of Top Flight’s hybrid-electric powered Airborg UAV and 3D Real-time Simulation Environment & Fleet Management System for remote UAV inspections by engaging in new business opportunities based on commercial drones organized specifically for concrete-based inspections and various types of repair.

In August, the FAA issued a Certificate of Waiver to Greenly, Colorado-based general contracting company Hensel Phelps for the certified use of parachute-equipped drones on populated construction sites. The waiver was the first of its kind to be issued in the United States.

In a press release, Hensel Phelps reported that they have been working with drones since 2011 in order to develop best practices and safety protocols for the AEC industry. To accomplish this, the company checked for efficient drone operations and safeguarded job site employees, pedestrians and others who would be impacted by drone usage in all of its nine districts.

The endeavor opened the floor to other applicants interested in receiving similar waivers from the FAA and are now required to go through the same application process as Hensel, which requires proof of various testing, documentation and a statement of compliance under ASTM F3322-18.

And earlier this month, AkzoNobel released an update on its partnership with Apellix, a Jacksonville, Florida-based start-up that won the 2019 Paint the Future challenge which is reportedly collaborating on a computer-controlled spray-painting drone.

The application aims for benefits such as reduced application time and less waste, as well as increases safety.


Tagged categories: drone; Drones; Federal Aviation Administration (FAA); Health and safety; Inspection; Inspection equipment; NA; North America; Safety; Technology; Tools & Equipment; Utilities

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