SMUD Embracing Drones For Survey Work

FOLSOM -- SMUD will begin using drones to patrol its 500 miles of transmission lines in order to save money and improve safety.

The FAA earlier this year set rules for the commercial use of drones, and SMUD is taking advantage of the recent rulings.

Dead and dying trees pose a problem when they fall on power lines, causing power blackouts and wild land fires.

Often areas are too tight to use helicopters to examine trees, power lines and towers.

"We would foot patrol this stuff, and what would take us days and weeks to patrol on foot we can do in a much smaller amount of time," said Scott Hallmark, SMUD vegetation manager.

The drones are equipped with an array of sensors and cameras that can detect the health of trees and also check power equipment that would normally require climbing up poles and towers.

Privacy is an issue associated with drones and SMUD and drone contractor PrecisionHawk is trying to address with customer notices.

"What day we're flying, what time we're flying, when we're going to be there and what altitude and all the details...privacy and safety are our two main concerns," said Matt Coleman, vice president for Business Development with PrecisionHawk.

The use of drones is expected to cost SMUD 25 percent less than standard monitoring methods. The drones will be used to survey transmission lines prior to the storm season to minimize power outages.