Landing site. Courtesy of NASA.

Use of Robotics on the Grid is Growing

June 9, 2022
Autonomous drones and droids are one branch of technology that is gaining acceptance worldwide.

I’m a sucker for a good headline, but then aren’t we all? They are designed to get our attention. That happened the other day when I was searching for some new material about advancements in drone technology for power grid asset surveying. The search engine came up with a wide selection of topics, but the one that caught my eye was titled, “Alien Spacecraft Found On Mars.” There are a lot of these types of teasers, but this one was from a prominent news organization, so I had to look.

It turns out, the story was based on a NASA update about the amazing adventures of Perseverance and Ingenuity, that dynamic duo exploring Mars. The alien spacecraft was the lander that delivered these two intrepid explorers to the Martian surface. So technically it is an alien spacecraft, and the headline was correct. I’m really glad I clicked on the link because the story was interesting, and it included some of the closeup aerial photos of that crash site.

NASA said the equipment shown in aerial crash site photos are the capsule, its supersonic parachute, and other debris. On April 19, Ingenuity celebrated the one year anniversary of its first flight by taking these photos on its 26th flight. That’s right, flight 26! Ingenuity has been racking up an impressive number of flights in the thin Martian atmosphere. It seems Ingenuity has proven itself to be more versatile than anyone expected. If you remember when NASA launched the Mars mission, there was a great deal of speculation about the Ingenuity being about to fly at all, but science overcame skepticism.

Autonomous Helicopter Rover

Not only did the little, autonomous Mars copter fly its scheduled five missions, but over the past year it has been setting new records every time it takes off. As of April 29, 2022, Ingenuity has logged 28 flights racking up 54.2 minutes of flight time. With those 28 flights, Ingenuity has traveled 4.29 miles (6.9 km), and has taken on a new mission for the exploration. Ingenuity is scouting the area to make Perseverance’s ground exploration safer.

A NASA spokesperson explained previous photos of the crash site were taken by Perseverance’s ground cameras. Ingenuity, however, offered a different perspective and provided more detail. It required a lot of complicated maneuvering on Ingenuity’s part, which tested the helicopter’s abilities. As I read these reports, it got me thinking about how this space-age technology will improve drone and droid systems that are working on the power grid.

Our industry has not been sitting around waiting when it comes to robotic applications. Utilities have been taking advantage of applications that are integrating artificial intelligence (AI) into droids and drones, making them autonomous. Back in the September 2020 a “Charging Ahead” article, “Droids and Drones” (, took a look at robotic technologies finding their way onto the smart grid.


At that time Florida Power & Light was working on a pilot project with Percepto for autonomous “drones-in-a-box” systems that had started in 2018. If you’re not familiar with drone-in-a-box systems, the drone is housed in a self-contained box that serves as a takeoff and landing platform, a charging station, and a computer management system. When I found the Perseverance and Ingenuity story, I also found an update on the FPL and Percepto collaboration project.

A recent report said that FPL had been issued a nationwide waiver by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) to fly Percepto drones beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) for surveillance and inspection purposes at its sites. Getting the FAA BVLOS waiver was a significant advancement for the project. It gives FPL and Percepto the green light to move forward to the next phase of the project.

As a result, FPL will be adding 13 drones-in-a-box systems in the West Palm Beach area for observation and assessment of FPL’s substations and distribution networks. Over the next five years, FPL’s plans to add hundreds of Percepto drones systems to the project. The drones will be controlled by Percepto’s AIM solution. This singular network will allow for remote operation of their drones statewide.

The use of robotics on the grid is growing and so are the assets. Autonomous drones and droids are one branch of technology that is gaining acceptance worldwide. Imagine when the AI technology used on Perseverance and Ingenuity finds its way into commercial applications. It’s going to improve the grid in ways we can’t imagine!

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