This publication aims at illustrating the use of 3D LiDAR technology to powerlines inspection tasks. We will see the advantages of this powerful technology and we will explain why 3D data processing is the bottleneck in this use case. Then, we will show how our solution T3D Powerlines has been successfully applied for large-scale applications in the powerlines domain.
Electricity transmission operators need a complete inventory of their infrastructures for a better management of the network. In particular, to perform tasks such as:
- Asset management
- Vegetation monitoring
- Damage identification
- Predictive maintenance, etc.
Powerlines inspection is usually carried out by visual assessment:
- By walk: an operator goes down the corridor (~5 km/h),
- By helicopter: several operators and a pilot look over the corridor (~40 km/h).
This inspection is subjective and inaccurate because it depends on the expertise, visual accuracy and fatigue of operators.
Moreover, this inspection is slow, expensive and may be dangerous in some cases.
Recent advances in remote sensing (GPS, IMU, LiDAR) allow using vehicles for 3D mapping of large-scale infrastructures such as powerlines corridors, railways, highways, urban environments, among others.
In the case of powerlines corridors, a helicopter (or a drone) flies over electrical lines and acquire precise 3D LiDAR information about the infrastructure. This information is saved as 3D point clouds for further offline processing at the office.
Since 3D point clouds represent the actual size of objects, we can make measurements, inspections and inventories as if we were in the field. This is usually called a Digital twin. (For a short introduction about 3D point clouds, take a look at this entry in our blog.)
LiDAR-based inspection is then composed of two steps:
- 3D data acquisition, which is a well-known problem and several commercial solutions exist.
- 3D data processing, which is the bottleneck due to high complexity and huge size of data.
Terra3D proposes automated tools to overcome these issues.
LiDAR data processing
Data processing means analyzing the 3D point cloud in order to get useful information for:
- Inventory: e.g. counting and locating electrical components;
- Maintenance: e.g. identifying damaged elements;
- Vegetation monitoring: e.g. alerting when vegetation is too close to the electrical network.
This processing can be carried out manually or automatically. On the one hand, an operator can manually analyze approximately 10 km per day. On the other hand, automatic processing allows analyzing more than 150 km per day.
Let's take the example of the French electricity transmission network operated by RTE, which is composed of 105 000 km.
Note that manual processing is not appropriate for large-scale applications. Automated processing is a powerful technology, it makes possible large scale applications. Let's give some statistics about our T3D Powerlines solution:
This software suite offers automated solutions such as 3D point cloud classification, 3D point cloud modeling and specific applications such as advanced vegetation monitoring.
3D point cloud classification
Classification is the process of giving a semantic sense to each group of points in the 3D point cloud. For example, you may be interested in determining which points correspond to wires, which to towers, which to ground and which to vegetation.
Take a look at the following video to see how our automatic software can classify 3D point clouds in an accurate, fast and reproducible way.
3D point cloud modeling
Modeling is the process of generating a geometrical entities from a 3D point cloud. It is usually carried from a previously classified point cloud. For example, wires conductors can be modeled as 3D polylines generated from a set of 3D points classified as such. Those polylines can be obtained by fitting the precise catenary shape of cables. When geometric models are exported in a common CAD format file such as DWG, DXF or SHP, this process is often called vectorisation or digitization. Such models can be easily imported into classical CAD and GIS software.
Take a look at the following video to see how our automatic software can model 3D wires conductors in an accurate, fast and reproducible way.
Advanced vegetation monitoring
After classification and modeling, you may be interested in exploiting those results in a specific application such as vegetation monitoring. For example, we can generate alerts when a wire conductor is too close to the vegetation (we all remember the tragic 2018 camp fire in California).
In the following example, we have computed the distance from the vegetation (green points) to every element in the electrical network (wires in yellow and transmission towers in blue). When vegetation is closer than a given security distance threshold, our software generates a 3D bounding box where an intervention is needed.
As illustrated in the Figure below, our software is also able to identify individual trees in the environment. This allows a precise quantification and planning of maintenance operations.
3D technology presents several advantage such as:
- 3D point clouds are accurate digital representations of the real world: Digital Twin;
- We can make measurements, inspections and inventories as if we were in the field;
- We can perform asset management tasks from the office, in a precise and less expensive way than classical approaches;
- LiDAR-based inspection increases productivity, reduces fieldwork and improves operator's security.
However, there exists several drawbacks related to 3D data:
- 3D data interpretation may not be trivial;
- Manual processing is painful, time-consuming and expensive
As we can see, LiDAR is a very powerful technology which can be applied for 3D mapping of large-scale infrastructures such as powerlines corridors. However, 3D data processing is the bottleneck nowadays. Ongoing advances in this domain will allow LiDAR technology to be massively applied to large-scale applications.
If you are interested in this domain or need advice on your project, do not hesitate to contact us. Terra3D proposes solutions for automatic processing of 3D data in the form of licenses of our software, SaaS, consulting and technical studies.