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Alabama company uses drone technology to access dangerous and difficult locations

(Video Above: Alabama Power uses UAVs to access dangerous and difficult locations)

By Ike Pigott

Who knew that such a small motor could generate so much buzz?

Alabama Power’s newest equipment might look like a toy. In fact, it very much resembles unmanned aircraft that many purchased as gifts for children. But the implications are big, and could lead to cost savings, faster storm recovery and increased safety.

Company engineers are looking at how unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) can be used to inspect damaged lines after storms, and perform the routine inspections that help maintain a reliable system.

“There are literally dozens of things these vehicles could do for us,” said Engineering Manager Bobby Hawthorne, who is tasked with evaluating the field tests. “It’s just a matter of figuring out which ones provide the greatest benefit, and proving their value.”

Federal Aviation Administration restrictions govern who can fly UAVs. Alabama Power and Southern Company applied for and received a special FAA exemption to test the capabilities of the aircraft. The permission allows for flights of up to 400 feet above ground and only within line of sight of the operator.

So far, the company has flown more than a dozen tests, simulating the work that would be required for post-storm evaluations and other tasks.

“We are excited, as there are a number of potential uses in our field for these aircraft,” said Alabama Power Vice President Danny Glover. “I’m confident in the ingenuity of our system engineers and employees to find good uses for this technology. It will translate directly to improvements in safety, efficiency and production.”

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