Ameren Illinois holds drone demonstration at local facility

By Gary Scott on July 29, 2017 at 6:00am

Ameren Illinois held a drone demonstration at their Jacksonville Operating Center yesterday.

The power company showcased some of their initial steps towards incorporating unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, into their daily operations.

One of Ameren Illinois’ licensed commercial drone pilots, Kyle Maxwell, was on hand to offer a simulated flight. One of the major benefits of using the drones is their ability to fly over certain areas that would otherwise be unreachable. Maxwell says the drones make Ameren much more efficient in their response times to things such as power outages.

“Normally in those situations when we’d have an outage, we’d put people on the ground walking, possibly using an ATV, something like that. The drone provides a lot quicker response time cause we can put it up in the air, go down a sectional line, identify the problem and where it exits. Then as we find the problem, we also can find a way to get into it. We can put the drone up in the air and see there’s a field road there and that’s how we can get into it, rather than causing a bunch of field damage or things of that nature,” says Maxwell.

Maxwell says  another advantage of using drones is the technology within the aircrafts.

“You’re basically looking through the camera at photos, but at the same time you’re recording video. So you don’t have to be great at getting your image right then. The real benefit is when you land the drone, pull the SD card out of it, take it into your computer and you can slowly watch the video and see where your problem is,” Maxwell explains.

Ameren Aviation Protection Program Manager Riley Adams says ultimately, the technology should help cut down restoration times for Ameren customers while keeping employees safer.

“Internally at Ameren, we require our pilots to have about twenty hours of flight time to make sure that they understand the drone fully, all the capabilities of it and that they can operate it safely. Ultimately, we think it’s going to decrease the restoration time for our customers when we have outages,” says Adams.

Ameren Illinois will use these drones in a number of ways, from looking at storm damage to surveying difficult terrain and inspecting power lines and natural gas facilities.