Linefly X On Wire

Aerial Robot Modernizes Bird Flight Diverter Installation

May 6, 2021
The LineFly can install 24 bird flight diverters in sequence to cover a full span of a power line.

This season the LineFly will make its debut in the United States by autonomously installing Power Line Sentry Bird Flight Diverters (PLS BFDs) on a 115 kV Tristate G&T transmission line in the Pawnee National Grasslands of Colorado.

The LineFly, created by Calgary-based company FulcrumAir, Inc, is an aerial robot designed specifically to install 24 Power Line Sentry Bird Flight Diverters in sequence, enough for a full span of power line. It has been in use throughout Canada since October 2020 and is scheduled for release in the states in May 2021.

Not only does the LineFly install PLS BFDs diverters quickly (under 5 minutes per span), precisely (within 2 cm.), and cost effectively, but perhaps most importantly, it can install the diverters safely and in places that are difficult to reach with a bucket truck (e.g., over water) or by helicopter (e.g., steel angles).

The idea for a drone that could install multiple PLS BFDs in succession was driven by discussions at AltaLink, Alberta Canada’s leading transmission service provider. The project, led by Altalink’s environmental advisor Nikki Heck, was motivated by the desire to automate the installation of PLS BFDs while simultaneously reducing the need for helicopter-driven installs.

 The PLS BFD is the preferred device for many utilities because its patented combination of design features provides superior visibility in low-light conditions and from all viewpoints. The PLS BFD is characterized by prismatic fluorescent yellow stripes, 24-hour rated glow-in-the-dark white stripes, and A-frame shape that gives the appearance of a rectangle from all viewpoints. Because the majority of avian collisions take place while birds are ascending or descending in low light conditions, research has proven that visibility in low light and from all viewpoints is the most effective way to prevent collisions. 

It is estimated that 57 million birds are killed by power line strikes in the United States alone, and with the rapidly expanding electrical grid and increase in renewable energy generation, electrical utility companies are increasing efforts to prevent collisions by marking overhead conductors with genuinely visible bird flight diverters.

Traditionally, line markers were installed manually via a helicopter, bucket truck, or by hotstick from the ground. But now the LineFly can travel down the line quickly and efficiently, placing the PLS BFDs at predetermined intervals in almost any type of weather and in areas that might otherwise be difficult to reach, such as wetlands, canyons, river crossings, or environmentally sensitive rights-of-ways. The LineFly can install up to 600 PLS BFDs a day.

In Canada, the LineFly can be placed on overhead conductors via the Fulcrum Air E7500 UAV while in the US the LineFly will be placed on overhead conductors via a bucket truck until the FAA grants final approval for full drone installation. FAA approval is expected in 2022.

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