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Ed Yeates ReportingA Utah university could play a major role in the upgrade of the nation's aging electrical grid system. Utah State University has developed a new helicopter-mounted sensing system that detects weaknesses and potential problems before they happen.
The country's largest blackout yet has convinced utilities it's time to scrutinize the nation's interwoven electrical distribution system. And this might be how they'll do it.
USU researchers have been working on a sophisticated sensor called ISIS for the past two years, and now it could be on a fast track as utilities, east and west, scramble to upgrade an aging grid.
Duane Hill, USU Research Foundation: "We're taking a very comprehensive look at the distribution system from the right of way down to the nuts and bolts and cotter keys. Looking at the health of everything, not just one item."
The array of sensors and cameras lock on to poles, lines, insulators, everything that make up the distribution system. The old way a included a utility worker with binoculars, flying in a chopper only 5 to 50 feet from power lines at a dangerous 3 to 5 miles per hour. It's so costly and risky, utilities may cover only ten percent of the system per inspection.
But mounted on the chopper, ISIS doesn't miss a thing. At 300 feet up and traveling 40 to 50 miles per hour, it covers not just 10 percent, but the whole distribution system in one pass. It can pick out a broken insulator the human eye can miss or corona glows where power is leaking from lines into the atmosphere. And it provides a map with the exact location.
ISIS has the capabilities to pick up a lot of things. Not just repairs on transmission lines or pipelines, but say an act of sabotage, something very small a terrorist might use."
Jack Rhodes, USU Research Foundation: "People can place things, small things, that may be explosives, incidental to a fast fly by, and you really don't notice it or out in these areas where people don't visit very often."
ISIS remembers what it sees, noting changes that might have happened from one pass to the other. The USU device can also scrutinize railroads, waterways, reservoirs and border crossings.
ISIS could be in use within the year.