Airborne eye for outback anomalies

New technology developed by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Powercor Australia could help protect communities from bushfires.

New technology developed by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Powercor Australia could help protect communities from bushfires and reduce the cost of keeping trees clear of powerlines.

The technology may make it possible for power companies to measure the distance of tree branches from powerlines from the air. According to CSIRO this will save money spent annually on manual inspection, particularly in country areas.

‘Each year Powercor Australia spends millions of dollars making sure our electricity network is free from interference from trees and vegetation,’ said Powercor Australia’s Manager of Technology, Bob Coulter. ‘This new technology will mean that ground patrols are only needed later, when tree branches actually need to be trimmed.’

Since 1996, CSIRO has carried out several studies for Powercor to develop a cost effective airborne image capture and processing system to automatically measure the clearance of trees from powerlines.

Streams of colour stereo images were collected from an aeroplane flying above power lines carrying two cameras, one on each wing.

CSIRO image analysis specialists, Dr Changming Sun, Dr Mark Berman and their colleagues, developed software to identify objects such as powerlines, poles and the surfaces of nearby trees in three dimensions. The software can then measure distances from powerlines to trees.

‘This technology is a form of stereo computer vision,’ said Dr Berman. ‘It reconstructs three-dimensional information from a sequence of stereo image pairs of a scene and uses it to measure distances.’

‘This is similar to how human vision works,’ he added. ‘The two cameras and a computer are like our two eyes and brain which seamlessly work together to estimate how far away objects are from us and each other.’

As well as assessing powerlines entirely from the air without the need for patrols to check them, the technology will give power companies a record of the state of their distribution assets at a particular date.

CSIRO and Powercor Australia have taken out a provisional patent on the technology.