The rapid growth of unmanned systems for military applications has been well documented. Whether it is aerial vehicles for intelligence and surveillance or robots for explosives disposal, the uptake has been widespread.
However, for an indication of the realm of the possible in the civil or commercial space, perhaps there is no better example than Hydro Quebec. For the past several years at the annual Unmanned Systems Canada conference, the provincial power company has provided an update on its use of autonomous systems. And much of that has been on the evolution of LineScout, a robot developed in its research institute (IREQ) able to traverse hydro lines, navigating around towers, to monitor their health.
LineScout’s progress continues; Hydro Quebec is now exploring its ability to maintain and repair those transmission lines, alleviating the dangerous work performed by crews in helicopters, line carriages and other devices, often in extreme environments and weather. And other countries are buying in.
But the next leap forward is also taking shape. The corporation is now exploring the inspection and repair capabilities of other robotics on dams, turbines, power stations and other complex systems.
Quebec Hydro has only been able to move forward with each robotic system by making a sound business case, Serge Montambault of IREQ explained, and that has required reliable and coherent data.