Merrillville-based NIPSCO now will be assisted by drone technology to help maintenance teams identify deficiencies in the utility’s power network that may need repairs or improvements.
NIPSCO has contracted with Pennsylvania-based Orbital Technical Solutions to conduct inspections of more than 200 miles of power lines in LaPorte, Michigan City and south Hammond during the first three months of this year with plans to conduct more inspections in the future. Orbital Technical Solutions employs drone pilots, engineers and project managers, who will conduct the inspections.
The drones, small unmanned aircraft flown by a licensed-pilots, will be used to produce detailed aerial images and gather sensor data of overhead power lines, electrical substations, transmission towers and vegetation clearance needs within utility right-of-ways, NIPSCO said.
NIPSCO said the inspection routes will be identified in advance and limited to airspace near NIPSCO power lines, which is typically between 50 feet and 100 feet above the ground. A licensed operator will be located no more than one-fourth of a mile away from the drone, NIPSCO said.
Inspection routes may require drones to be flown over public and private property but it will not record video in those situations nor will it sell any of its information collected to outside companies, NIPSCO said.
NIPSCO said FAA regulations will be followed while conducting flight inspections. Drones will only be flown during daylight hours and will not fly directly over anyone.
The utility said all drone flight plans will be approved and coordinated with local municipalities, authorities and airports prior to the execution of each flight inspection.
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