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MAY-JUN 2017

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INTECH MAY/JUNE 2017 21 FACTORY AUTOMATION documenting all measurements, and thereby meeting air compliance regulations, are typi- cally "handled" by a small army of individuals with handheld or backpack-sized detectors. They crawl through piping racks conduct- ing measurements at each flange. Such work is performed in difficult conditions (in terms of temperature, humidity, and physical chal- lenges) and frequently has a high level of employee turnover. Enter low-cost sensors and mobile platforms—in other words, un- manned aerial systems (UASs or drones) with enhanced sensing capabilities. Drones – More than flying cameras Remotely piloted aerial vehicles have been used, primarily by military forces, since the Second World War. With recent technological advancements in microprocessor computing power, sensor miniaturization, and purpose- built software, UAS technology has established a significant new niche in the evolution of avia- tion. Alternatively labeled unmanned aircraft systems, unmanned aerial vehicles, or simply drones, small UASs (sUASs) are becoming read- ily accessible for commercial, governmental, and private use across a myriad of far-ranging applications. (Note that the Oak Ridge National Laboratory's UAS Research Center recently re- leased a best practices guide for UAS operation by electric utilities. See the sidebars for an over- view of the rules for legal operation.) Figure 1. Some individuals view a drone as a camera with wings. Although a "traditional" drone has a camera where video and still images may be stored on an onboard memory device or, in some instanc- es, wirelessly transmitted to a handheld device, the operational situation changes when the drone's sensors can directly communicate with an industrial control or supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system. Such a level of in tegration requires bidirectional communi- cation transmission security, as well as logical protocol synchroniza- tion. Such commu- nications have been demonstrated using cellular telephony as well as licensed- and unlicensed-band wire- less. With respect to the information presented in figure 2, the sensor- laden drones were con- trolled via approved Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules, but with the sensor "pods" communicating directly into the utility's core communication network via 900 MHz wireless and made available into the SCA- DA system (as opposed to using the same wireless channel for the drone control). Figure 2. Multiple drones with sensors were used to measure a wide range of parameters at the EPB training site in Chattanooga, Tenn. Multiple sensors within the "pod" measured parameters including temperature, humidity, at- mospheric pressure, motion (via accelerometers), electric and magnetic field strength, coronal arc discharge, forward-look infrared (FLIR) thermal imagery, visual imagery, cell phone signals (Ve- rizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint), and CH 4 (methane). Additional microcontrollers and specialized min- iaturized network equipment were placed within the sensor pod, along with a separate battery- based power supply system tailored for the sensor package. A photo of the drone and sensor pod as it inspects an electrical distribution transformer is shown in figure 3. These proof-of-concept demon- strations—specifically showing airborne sensors providing real-time measurements of automation systems—are a glimpse into future applications. FAST FORWARD l It is time to think of a drone as more than a flying camera—it is a mobile platform for easily delivering sensors to various locations. l The rules for nonrecreational use of drones have recently changed, making it easier to fly legally in industrial settings. l Microdrones equipped with small passive sensors are migrating from the laboratory into practical service at truly low cost.

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