“Drones4Energy“ is an innovative drone project with major contributions from Fraunhofer IMS that contributes to the latest technologies in electrical and communications engineering to build a fully autonomous drone system that can be charged via overhead cable. The project promises the delivery of a collaborative drone system that can inspect the power grid in a highly efficient way. The project is designed and tested indoors and outdoors.
The goal of the project is to be able to automatically and efficiently monitor the power cables on transmission lines. With different sensors like cameras and LiDAR sensors the monitoring of this infrastructure is performed. A control software based on AI algorithms is supposed to enable autonomous operation and the synchronization with other drones in the group. Thus, expensive helicopter rides can be avoided. Another special requirement is to achieve a long flight time to be able to use the autonomous operation efficiently. Because the battery capacity affects the weight, the conductor rope can serve as a source of energy to recharge the drones via inductive harvesters. The drone attaches itself with the harvester to the power line and charges the battery of the drone. Thus, a significant weight reduction is achieved.
A state-of-the-art drone control system is being developed by the “Unmanned Aerial-Systems Center“ (UAS) of the University of Southern Denmark to stabilize drones close to an active cable, hold the harvester on the cable and simultaneously overcome the magnetic perturbation. A combination of precision navigation systems, LiDARs and magnetic sensors are installed inside the drone and connected to the computer unit. The control system analyzes the recorded data and floats over the drone under the magnetic field, finds the active cable, plans a path to this cable and carries out a secure charge recovery process. As soon as the battery is loaded completely and, if the weather allows for a flight, the control system performs the safe start. The “Institute for Mathematics & Computer Science“ (IMADA) of Univerity of Southern Denmark develops standard APIs (Application Program Interfaces) to connect the drone to the cloud service that provides information on the current and the expected weather, the planned inspection path und the settlement schedule. IMADA is going to increase the state-of-the-art machine learning algorithm to optimize the inspection results and only save the relevant inspection data.
To optimize the inspection time and increase accuracy, a collaborative drone system is formed and flies along the lines to cover all sides. A physical wireless communications network with low power and long range, which is based on the LoRaWAN technology and has been developed by the project partner Develco A/S, is being developed and connected to the computer unit of the drone. The network enables an inter-drone-communication together with the internet communication to control and monitor the drones via the ground control station, update the mission of the drones and collect inspection results. Software algorithms for cooperating drones, like distribution of tasks and coordination, are researched and developed by the University Aarhus.
To validate the whole drone system three different application scenarios are defined which are based on the experiences of the project partner GeoPartner. The use cases are performed in two phases:
- indoors in the drone test center at Odense Airport and
- Outdoor on an active powerline segment provided by utility EnergiNet.
The start-up company "Science Venture Danmark" (SVD) will be responsible for the development and implementation of the commercial roadmap for Drones4Energy.The business plan is designed in detail parallel to the technical work packages. The commercial strategy is focused on the development of Drones4Energy technologies for products that can be offered for all drones on the market and not just for one provider.