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    Smart Drones to Replace Helicopters, Monitor Norwegian Power Grid

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    Norway is planning to strike a victory for the environment (and save some money) by allowing long-range drones equipped with artificial intelligence to monitor its vast power grid.

    In the near future, drones may become the newest inspectors of power lines in Norway. The country is touting drones as a resourceful and cost-effective way of replacing the helicopters that are currently used to monitor the Norwegian power network. The aggregate length of the country's power lines is ten times as long as the Earth's equator.

    According to the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), just eight drones equipped with Artificial Intelligence and provided with an enhanced range of up to 500 kilometers, can effectively provide power grid surveillance to the whole country, provided that they are stationed in the right places.

    "It is far more expensive to use a helicopter for this type of surveillance, and the subsequent photo analysis is time-consuming. Instead, drones will automatically detect failures and errors. In case of more extreme weather, drones are able check the power lines when it becomes too risky to use a helicopter," Per Magnus Veierland of the NTNU told Norwegian national broadcaster NRK.

    According to Veierland, the enhanced range is a result of an effective wing construction combined with a hybrid engine that generates electricity from gasoline. Flying only on batteries, a drone is estimated to have a range of 130 kilometers.

    The master plan is to develop a drone that in addition to regular inspection tasks would be also able to perform troubleshooting after extreme weather, whereupon repair crews will be sent.

    "In the long run, we will see to it that the drone will be able to fix some of the errors by itself," Per Magnus Veierland said.

    The perspective of replacing helicopters with drones was music to the ears of environmental authorities. Counselor Christian Børs Lind of Norway's Nature Conservation Association said that helicopter traffic represented a major strain on nature diversity.

    "Vulnerable species are undoubtedly better off with quiet drones than helicopters in the air. Noise and air pressure imply severe strain, so a transition to drones is an absolute good," Christian Børs Lind said.

    Meanwhile, Veierland's crew has won a competition for new power network solutions from Statnett, the Norwegian state owned enterprise responsible for owning, operating and constructing the stem power grid in Norway.

    According to its senior consultant Rolf Aaberg Broch, Statnett is open to the broader use of drones, which are getting all the more intelligent and "learning" to take remedial action. According to him, a full replacement of helicopters is not on the menu quite yet.

    "Drones have become a supplement, not a replacement. At the same time, technology is developing so fast that five years from now drones will become common for the inspection of the grid," Rolf Aaberg Broch said.

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    Tags:
    environment, electric grid, AI, drone, Scandinavia, Norway
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