Illinois Tech and ComEd Partner Together on Drone Project

Illinois Institute of Technology and ComEd have partnered on a project to use unmanned aircraft system (UAS), or drone technology, to inspect ComEd’s utility lines.

The UAS’s will be used on a trial basis to inspect and assess conditions of ComEd’s transmission and distribution lines as well as its substations. Additionally, the technology may also be used to assess damage following significant storms. ComEd is the first utility in the Midwest to use this technology.

“This UAS technology will allow us to be more proactive in identifying problems before they interrupt power to our customers,” said Terence R. Donnelly, executive vice-president and chief operating officer of ComEd. “This will be especially useful in remote areas that can be difficult to access and will provide an added layer of safety for our workers by making it possible to inspect lines without sending a person into a hazardous area.”

The UAS’s will have a camera that can provide video and still photos and will fly above power lines and substations to provide an in-depth look at the condition of the system. In the future, ComEd hopes to have an infrared camera mounted as well to identify hot spots on the lines.

IIT will initially provide a licensed pilot for the partnership and is trialing a light, flexible cage around the UAS that may maximize battery usage and protect the UAS.

“It’s exciting to be working with ComEd to study robots in real-world conditions,” said Matthew Spenko, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at IIT. “From a research perspective, this will allow us to learn more about how robots perform in unstructured, outdoor environments.”

ComEd is acquiring UASs and completing the necessary training of its pilots. The utility is looking to launch the technology in the early summer. Consistent with FAA instructions provided with the approval to fly, and with ComEd’s long-standing practices, ComEd will work closely with municipalities before flying UAS’s in their areas.