Fixed-Wing VTOL Utility Drone From ULC Takes Flight

Robotics Business Review

HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. — ULC Robotics Inc. said it has advanced the state of the art in commercial utility industry aerial inspection after a successful flight test for its newly developed vertical takeoff and landing fixed-wing unmanned aerial vehicle last week. ULC is a leading robotics, energy services, and research and development company, and its commercial-grade VTOL fixed-wing UAV was specifically developed to meet the inspection needs of electric and gas utilities.

The UAV was designed and built from the ground up by ULC’s Aerial Services and engineering teams. According to the company, it is a powerful and versatile platform with a 10-ft. wingspan and a sensor payload capacity of 10 lb. The UAV can conduct fully autonomous aerial inspections and assessments of a variety of utility structures and properties, including electrical transmission lines, gas transmission pipelines, and right of ways.

ULC Aerial Services is working with gas and electric utilities across the U.S. to develop the VTOL aircraft with the most beneficial commercial utility applications. Upcoming test flights and pilot programs are a critical step to enabling ULC’s UAV to gather valuable imagery and data for enhancing utility infrastructure.

In order to collect specialized data for the divisions’ utility customers, ULC will be integrating a variety of sensor and monitoring payloads into its VTOL platform.  The UAV will continue to be flight-tested with radiometric thermal cameras and high-resolution DSLR imaging systems. Thanks to its 10-lb. payload capacity, more than one system can be included on the aircraft at a time. The company also plans to integrate LiDAR, gas leak detection sensors, and other advanced systems onto the payload of the drone.

The UAV has a set of eight quadcopter rotors for vertical takeoff and landing. After it reaches a predetermined altitude and airspeed, the aircraft transitions to highly-efficient, forward flight combining the practical functionalities of multi-rotor UAV with the speed and range of a fixed-wing aircraft.

The drone is currently running an electric propulsion system with a one to one-and-a-half hour flight time. In the near future, ULC Aerial Services intends to integrate an electric/gas hybrid propulsion system that will allow for a five-hour endurance and 50 mph cruise speed (250-mile range), laying the groundwork for beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flight.

Planning for BVLOS flights with the VTOL UAV and its other unmanned aircraft is a strategic aspect of the aerial services program that will allow ULC’s utility customers to adopt the most efficient and cost-effective UAV services.

“The combination of extended flight time, speed, and range offers enhanced inspections and assessments that improve upon the capabilities of current utility inspection techniques,” said Mike Passaretti, ULC Aerial Services program manager.

VTOL drone cheaper, safer than helicopters

Present electric utility infrastructure inspection methods can be cumbersome, requiring utilities to fly helicopters over the inspection site several times a year. This is costly and compromises the safety of the workers due to low airspeed and altitude. By implementing the use of the VTOL UAV, the data gathered will allow utility inspectors to assess infrastructure health from the safety of their desks rather than in the air.

The UAV’s sensor payload, along with its ability to offset the use of helicopters, brings a new level of innovation to utilities. ULCs solution promises to improve asset reliability, reduce the environmental footprint, and increase safety.

And because the UAV can take off and land from almost anywhere without a runway, it can be dispatched from difficult-to-access terrain, heavily forested areas, and densely populated neighborhoods. In such locations, it would be unsafe or too time-consuming to inspect long stretches of utility infrastructure, such as gas transmission right-of-ways, on foot or with a manned aircraft.

“As a leader in providing innovative services and products to some of the world’s most notable utility companies, ULC is committed to developing advanced solutions that can enhance and improve the safety and reliability of energy networks,” said Gregory Penza, president and CEO of ULC Robotics. “Our Aerial Services division’s new VTOL UAV will help redefine how utilities inspect their infrastructure.”

“Through working directly with our customers to develop the UAV program, we welcome the opportunity to create more value and discover the innovative ways in which UAVs will gather even more actionable data to improve utility inspections while reducing operating costs,” Penza said.

For more information on ULC’s VTOL UAV and the Aerial Services Program, visit www.ulcrobotics.com or call 631-667-9200.

About ULC Robotics

ULC Robotics is a leader in developing and deploying innovative technology and processes that help pipeline operators and energy companies repair, inspect and assess their infrastructure. The deployment of ULC Robotics’ range of products and services helps to eliminate costly and disruptive excavation while eliminating gas leaks, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and improving efficiency.

Both ULC Robotics and their clients have shared accolades for developing some of the most innovative products in the energy industry. Recognition includes a 2017, 2016 and 2014 Top 50 Global Robotics Companies by Robotics Business Review and a Robotics Business Review 2015 Game Changer Award in Construction, Mining and Energy.

A 2017 IGEM and EUA Gas Innovation Award for Product of the Year, 2017 Innovation Award from Innovate Long Island, and a 2016 and 2014 Energy Innovation Award for enabling gas utilities to deliver a safe and reliable supply of energy to customers. For more information on ULC and its products and services, please visit www.ulcrobotics.com.

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