WELD COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – Companies working with drones in the Eastern Plains say the technology is an important advancement helping industries like electrical utilities operate more efficiently and pass on savings to their customers. They have operated in the region for years including where some in the area were worried about suspicious activity at night involving drones.
“We’re over 10 times faster than the traditional method,” said Dusty Birge, the president of UAV Recon. “We’re not reducing the importance or need for a lineman, what we’re doing is making their work more efficient.”
Birge started the company a few years ago when he realized utilities could benefit from drones checking power lines saving time and money. UAV Recon contracts with clients primarily in Colorado and Nebraska to capture photos and video of their infrastructure. A team of two drone pilots can travel by truck along power line grids using drones to capture a 360-degree view of poles. Linemen can then access the media online using Birge’s other company, Volt, to examine structures for any maintenance needs.
The power company had to de-energize lines to inspect their infrastructure, which required an outage in some cases. The previous process could also use a helicopter to fly over power lines, which was more expensive and more dangerous than drones, according to Birge. Four years ago, he was working for an electric utility company when he realized there could be a better way. His company now has flown over 400 substations and worked in 13 states.
“We’re really out in the middle of nowhere,” Birge said. “It’s really hard to confirm whether you see one or not if it’s a little bit further away, unless you see where it takes off and lands from.”
Most of their work is done during the day and out of sight but some of it, involving substations and special sensors does require night flights. But his company issued a statement explaining they were not responsible for the suspicious sightings reported to law enforcement between November and January in northeastern Colorado.
“Not all drones are bad, nor all operations are bad,” he said. “Even if you don’t know what’s going on, there may be very good intent behind the intention of those operations.”
Birge points out that fire and police departments use drones for public safety and that the recent concerns were impacted by misinformation. He hopes that it doesn’t influence the public’s view on the technology overall because it can improve standards and lead to higher quality results for everyone.
“I believe that at some point it will be just a way of life,” Birge said.