News about digitizing infrastructures and automating utility inspection with drones and AI

Using LiDAR for power line inspection – Hepta Airborne

The most used power line defect detection method around the world is RGB photography. but LiDAR power line inspection offers unique advantages. While universal in their usage, RGB photos have limitations on the amount of information that can be extracted from them and are used to detect current defects. LiDAR power line inspection on the other hand enable grid operators to create 3D models which help to predict and detect future defects. The following article gives an overview of how LiDAR power line inspection works and where it offers the greatest advantages.

How LiDAR power line inspection works

LiDAR (short for Light Detection and Ranging) uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges (variable distances) to the Earth. LiDAR targets an area with a laser and measures the time for the reflected light to return to the receiver. The light pulses help to generate precise, three-dimensional information about the shape of the inspected area and its surface characteristics.

In power line inspections LiDAR is usually attached to a drone which then covers and measures the inspection area with multiple flights, allowing the creation of high-density point clouds. The higher the amount of measured points gathered by LiDAR power line inspection, the more information it is possible to get out of the 3D model created in the end.

Example of a 3D point cloud based on LiDAR measurements, as a part of transmission line inspection

Example of a 3D point cloud based on LiDAR measurements

LiDAR technology does have a couple of drawbacks one should keep in mind when planning operations. One of them is that LiDAR needs relatively calm weather without precipitation to be used. Otherwise, there is a risk that the LiDAR readings will be affected by the weather and thus generate faulty point maps.

The data collected during the LiDAR transmission line inspection is usually uploaded to Hepta Airborne’s specialised power line inspection platform uBird which allows inspectors to easily analyse the data and detect defects. uBird also allows the users to precisely measure distances between two points, allowing them to get a quick understanding of the different objects surrounding their power lines and the threat they might pose.

LiDAR power line inspection advantages

LiDAR use in power line inspection offers unique advantages. LiDAR point clouds and 3D maps allow grid operators to measure the distance between the foliage, different vegetation and power lines. This in turn allows them to make well-informed decisions and predict the areas that will become problematic in the near future. Instead of doing large scale clearing operations, the grid operators can focus on the areas that pose the largest threat to the stability of their power line network.

Vegetation close to power lines discovered as imaged by a LiDAR sensor during power line inspection

Vegetation close to power lines

LiDAR power line inspections also allow measuring of wire profiles, enabling the grid operators to fix sagging power lines. LiDAR power line mapping is especially important in areas where there is either high traffic density or where there is large scale machinery movement. For example, sagging power lines oftentimes pose a threat to the tractors and other farm equipment used in farming areas. LiDAR power line mapping again allows the grid operators to act before any damage is caused to the power line or machines working around it.

In post-storm observations, LiDAR power line inspections allow to detect tilting trees that are dangerously close to the power lines or might pose a threat, should they fall down. This again helps grid operators to make pre-emptive decisions and take action, before storm-damaged trees might fall and cause blackouts. LiDAR power line inspections enable the grid operators to save time, money and loss of revenue due to blackouts when taking the right actions based on good information.

One of the biggest advantages for LiDAR inspections is the speed of operations. LiDAR gathers measurements in split seconds, thus allowing for quick mapping of the area. Instead of days, weeks or even months, huge swaths of land can be covered in hours. Taking into account the huge data-gathering prowess, LiDAR also is one of the cheapest transmission line inspection methods on the market.

Fallen tree on a power line discovered in a LiDAR power line inspection

Fallen tree on a power line

LiDAR power line inspection allows:

  • Vegetation analysis
  • Distance calculations
  • Wire profiles and sagging detection
  • Detection of dangerous trees


Hepta Airborne and LiDAR inspections

Hepta Airborne has conducted hundreds of LiDAR power line inspections all over Europe. Hepta’s power line inspection platform uBird is used for defect detection and analysis on four different continents and by a multitude of different network operators. If you are interested in applying LiDAR inspections to your grid or if you have any questions regarding the capabilities of LiDAR-based solutions, feel free to contact Hepta’s experts and get answers to all of your questions.


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