UK’s National Grid launches drone trial to fully automate asset inspections

The UK’s National Grid Electricity Transmission (NGET) is launching trials to fully automate the corrosion inspection of electricity transmission pylons using autonomous drones.

The year-long project, which is being carried out through a collaboration with deep tech startups Keen AI and, will leverage BVLOS drone flights. The captured data will be processed using artificial intelligence.

NGET has 21,900 steel lattice towers that carry overhead transmission wires in England and Wales. The structural steel conditions of the transmission pylons can deteriorate through corrosion, therefore periodic assessments are carried out to understand the condition of the network. NGET inspects approximately 3,650 steel lattice towers each year, capturing high-definition color images of the steel framework using hand-operated helicopters and drones.

Currently, images captured by drones are also processed manually by a pool of inspectors.

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The trial project will allow a fleet of connected and autonomous drones to fly in BVLOS under license from the Civil Aviation Authority. NGET is quick to point out that automating data capture and processing for asset inspection offers significant benefits:

  • Enable optimal data capture for automated processing
  • Increase the speed, efficiency and consistency of data processing
  • Predict the future state of a pylon and the impact of possible maintenance work
  • Reduce the risks and environmental impact of data capture

Mark Simmons, Packaging Monitoring Manager at NGET, summarizes:

Maintaining and investing in our transmission infrastructure is essential for a safe and reliable power grid. By working with innovators like Keen AI and, we are able to take real-time data and use it to predict when assets on our network need attention. This technology will be vital in the future as we increasingly connect renewable and low-carbon energy, expanding our grid and delivering world-class reliability. We look forward to technology complementing the methods we currently use to help our operations teams manage safety, inspections and maintenance.

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