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SA Power Networks gets ready to deploy Spot

Josh Spires | 28 October, 2021 | The Sphere Drones Blog

Featured image for SA Power Networks gets ready to deploy Spot

SA Power Networks has welcomed its newest member to the team, the Boston Dynamics Spot robot dog. The power company plans to use the new landborne robot to improve the quality of raw asset data collection while improving safety in the field.

SA Power will be using reinforcement learning with landborne robots to take its asset inspection to the next level. Spot is only the beginning for SA Power, offering it the ability to be used in many areas of the business thanks to the endless possibilities of payload integrations.

We are proud to be the first utility in Australia to use Spot for meeting our strategic goals. Our investment in developing the technology to suit our needs will not only improve safety and efficiency across our network but is a strategic investment in emerging processes and technologies.

Spot's duties

While in training with SA Power Networks Spot will go from power pole to power pole taking photos of the poles, powerlines, and transformers. These photos will allow SA Power to identify common issues such as low powerlines, damaged poles, or aging equipment.

Using Spot to do these repetitive inspections removes the need for a human team to go from pole to pole, saving SA Power a significant amount of money and removing its team from dangerous environments.

How does it work?

Spot is currently in training and SA Power is putting its programmable application software development kit (SDK) to use to teach it to complete the inspections mentioned above. This is the first AI driven landborne robot that SA Power is developing in house.

Teaching spot is done through reinforcement learning, a technique used in the world of AI all the time. Reinforcement learning is a manual method of teaching Spot how to do inspections. It's like training a dog, every time your dog does a trick you give it a treat. Every time Spot takes a photo of a pole it gets rewarded with numbers. Doing this over and over again will result in Spot to become more efficient and better at its job.

We will provide Spot with geographic information such as latitude and longitude and Spot will be able to work out where to navigate. It can see the poles, navigate towards, and take pictures of them. Spot will wear a high-resolution camera that can pan, tilt, and zoom, to photograph the assets and surrounding environment. A skilled asset management officer will then inspect the images. The officer will raise any maintenance requests as needed.

Why Spot?

Spot has been chosen due to the current limitations with drones and not being able to fly them beyond the pilot's line of sight (BVLOS). Spot is the next best thing as it can run autonomously and bypass the rules drones need to follow as it's a landborne robot.

Spot also has a range of features that suit SA Power's needs:

  • Cash protection
  • Dynamic reaction
  • Self-rights after a fall
  • Average run time of 90 minutes with replaceable batteries
  • 360-degree obstacle avoidance
  • Operational in temperatures ranging from -20 C to 45 C
  • Rain and dust protection

Source: SA Power Networks

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