Aerial Efficiency

New imaging technology makes electric line inspections faster and easier

By Eric Goetsch

With 174 miles of transmission line to capture and the need for fine detail images for inspection analysis, SkySkopes turned to a helicopter platform with a 100-megapixel (MP) camera to produce RGB photographs for quick project turnarounds.

“The customer was surprised we could get this quality of imagery from a helicopter,” said Eric Goetsch, vice president of strategic operations for SkySkopes, which was founded in 2014 and is headquartered in Minot, North Dakota. “Integrating such a powerful camera onto a helicopter gimbal provides end users incredible data without sacrificing efficiency.”

Inspecting transmission lines at 60 mph: Capturing high-resolution imagery efficiently and safely from a helicopter is difficult, but SkySkopes has implemented a perfect install onto a Bell 407 to be able to conduct the 174-mile project in just two days. The project consisted of high-resolution data acquisition through airborne image data, with the use of a medium-format digital camera.

SkySkopes, a professional data collection company that creates innovative solutions for the energy industry, uses a solution integrated by GSS (Gyro Stabilized Systems), which consists of a Phase One 100 megapixel camera with a 300 millimeter motorized lens and the GSS gyro stabilized gimbal system. This solution gives a portable, airborne imaging system for their helicopter that can do everything they need of the camera from inside the helicopter cabin.

The transmission line project: SkySkopes, which specializes in data acquisition utilizing helicopter, drone, and mobile platforms that are equipped with cutting edge sensor solutions, was able to provide sharp, high-resolution imagery, bringing a unique solution that can provide tangible data safely and efficiently.

The imagery allowed the customer to get valuable information on each structure like broken insulators. The imagery was collected in a fraction of the time of similar projects utilizing traditional drone technology.

Why the project was necessary: The transmission line was constructed recently, in the Midwest, and the electric utility wanted to get a baseline of the health of their assets to see if any early problems are emerging.

The iXM-100 proved to be a great asset for this transmission inspection project and the 300 millimeter lens allows for a safe and fast helicopter flight profile without sacrificing quality.

Increased productivity and results: One of the challenges that needed to be overcome was how to efficiently collect imagery with enough detail to identify discrepancies on each asset.

As scattered cloud layers quickly changed lighting conditions, SkySkopes personnel had to use IX Capture to quickly change the ISO and shutter speed to maintain a consistent exposure.

To be able to get the sharpest image of each asset the team would set the focus distance based off the cameras slant range distance, then would take test images and readjust focus from there.

Benefits of technology used: A great benefit was the high-quality lens with the high resolution of the Phase One camera, along with the incredible stabilization by the GSS gimbal. That allowed the team to capture 85 miles of transmission line imagery in a single day while taking four images per structure. Another benefit was the ability to see fine details on the structures while flying 750 feet from the towers and moving at approximately 60 mph.

This changes the future of aerial imagery: The efficiency of being able to document the state of an asset though a few images at an unprecedented speed makes this inspection method accessible to more electric utilities.

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