Throughout history, military technology has evolved into far-flung and highly useful civilian applications. The Humvee notwithstanding, consumers have benefitted in many ways from technology that was first applied on the battlefield.
Unmanned aircraft systems, commonly known as drones, may be the next war technology to make the jump to the civilian arena. The many potential nonmilitary applications of drones are already being widely advanced and considered. The utility industry is one such application.
In July, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) announced that it had earned the distinction of being the first utility in the nation to receive Federal Aviation Administration approval to test drones in the field. The utility received a special airworthiness certificate to conduct research and train flight crews on drone usage in its territory.
SDG&E asserts that drones have the ability to provide a range of essential services, such as locating the cause of outages, inspecting power lines, accessing remote areas and monitoring fires. The devices measure 16 inches in diameter and weigh less than 1 pound. They use a camera to inspect utility equipment and relay live images back to a controller. The utility claims they will help it save money, reduce noise and protect the environment by eliminating the need for helicopters and heavy equipment.
SDG&E is also sensitive to the fear that drones may be used to invade people’s privacy. The utility will test the devices in four carefully selected, remote and limited areas, which are approximately 2.5 miles long and half a mile wide. The sites are unoccupied by residences or businesses. A 100-yard-diameter airspace at one of the utility’s facilities will also be used for training.