In South Africa and around the world, electrical utilities are required to inspect power lines and their immediate environment to ensure safe and reliable operation of the electrical network. Such inspections are costly and may be prone to human error. In some instances, inspection of power lines is performed aerially from a helicopter at great cost. Various existing power line inspecting machines are provided which travel on overhead power lines. However, it is desired to provide a different power line inspection apparatus which seeks to address and at least mitigate problems of many conventional means and methodologies. Overhead power lines are valuable assets that are ex-posed to environmental elements.

Some problems due to exposure that require maintenance of power lines include:
- Lightning damage
- Fatigue due to wind-induced vibration
- Corrosion, especially in salty air
- Right of way encroachment

A cable inspecting robot capable of providing inspection data such as visual, ultraviolet and infrared images of lines and their components, has been developed. This data can be geo-tagged and time-stamped, allowing for management of that data over multiple scheduled inspections of the same line. Gathering such inspection data allows for an accurate assessment of line and component degradation, in turn leading to their optimal replacement.

Applications & Market Opportunities

Line inspecting robots currently used are large, complex and expensive. Utility companies may also use helicopters to inspect the lines, which can be costly. Power transmission lines age and therefore, preventive maintenance and inspections is important, therefore, increasing the need for robots that will be able to carry these dangerous tasks efficiently at low costs. Maintaining a grid that spans vast distances is challenging and costly, and how well maintenance is carried out can affect the reliability of electricity supply.

Means of inspecting assets ahead of preventative maintenance include:

- Flight-based, via helicopter or slow fixed-wing
- Inspectors walking the lines
- Remotely operated vehicles (ROV) or robotic patrols.

Advantages of using a line-based robot

- Less physical demand on the inspector
- Operation is far easier than helicopter piloting
- Operational costs are reduced
- Cameras are in close proximity to the line

Advantages of the UKZN robot compared to other line-based ROVs

- Light weight, meaning it’s easy to deploy
- Minimal setup to deploy from tower onto a live line
- The ability to climb around both suspension and strain towers
- Automated sequences for climbing around line hardware

Intellectual Property Protection

Technology Readiness Level