sees.ai, an autonomous flight technology developer backed by Boeing, has become the first company in the UK to secure routine permission from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) for flying drones Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) in non-segregated airspace. This milestone permission allows sees.ai to conduct aerial inspections of live overhead powerline assets on the high voltage electricity transmission network.
Building upon the BVLOS permission granted to sees.ai in April 2021 for operating drones in non-segregated airspace over industrial sites, this new permission marks a significant achievement. It now allows sees.ai to conduct routine BVLOS flights along two specific runs of National Grid Electricity Transmission (NGET) live overhead power lines. This serves as an interim step towards demonstrating the safety and effectiveness of extending BVLOS permissions to NGET's critical national infrastructure.
sees.ai joins an exclusive group of companies worldwide with routine permission to conduct BVLOS inspections of the grid, and it may well be the only company capable of enabling close inspections, which are particularly valuable. Leveraging its core technology, sees.ai enables drones to fly in close proximity to steelwork and components, capturing a structured, internally georeferenced dataset of 2D images and 3D models optimized for automated analysis using artificial intelligence (AI).
This permission marks a significant milestone in the development of an end-to-end automated inspection analysis and reporting solution for electricity grids. sees.ai has been collaborating with NGET and its data analysis supplier, Keen AI, on this project since mid-2021. The objective is to enable NGET's in-house team to perform close aerial inspections of overhead lines from BVLOS using sees.ai's core technology, and then utilize Keen AI's software for condition assessment, defect resolution, and reporting. Ultimately, this collaboration will enable NGET, and potentially other grid operators, to more efficiently determine asset conditions and develop optimal maintenance plans.
To ensure the safe development and deployment of its core technology, sees.ai has been closely collaborating with the CAA Regulatory Sandbox team since 2019. Recently, the company has made significant progress in licensing its core technology through projects with National Grid and Marshall Futureworx. It has also been involved in two UK Government Future Flight Challenge projects, where sees.ai led consortia including partners such as National Grid, BT, and Network Rail.
John McKenna, CEO of sees.ai, expressed his pride in securing permission for BVLOS drone inspections of the live electricity grid, highlighting the company's commitment to enabling the safe operation of drone fleets on a national scale. He believes that this permission will pave the way for advancements in using drones for survey and inspection of critical national infrastructure, as well as expand into aerial logistics and mobility.
Sophie O'Sullivan, Head of Future Safety and Innovation at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, acknowledged the significance of allowing everyday BVLOS drone flights, as it unlocks the full potential of drone technology. She emphasized that safely incorporating drones into the airspace for infrastructure inspections represents a major achievement and aligns with the CAA's commitment to supporting UK innovation.
Mark Simmons, Condition Monitoring Manager at National Grid Electricity Transmission, commended sees.ai's achievement and highlighted its importance in enabling National Grid to fully harness the potential of drone technology for network inspections. He emphasized that embracing technologies like these is crucial for working towards net-zero goals and delivering a clean, fair, and affordable energy future for all.
sees.ai's permission for routine BVLOS inspections of live powerline assets represents a significant advancement in the field of autonomous drone operations. With the potential to enhance safety, efficiency, and sustainability in critical infrastructure inspections, the permission granted to sees.ai marks a pivotal moment in the progression of drone technology in the UK.