UIC researchers use drone technology to better inspect utility poles

CHICAGO (CBS) – It is a view of a light pole that is rarely seen, from a drone capturing images from above.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago are using perspective to keep drivers safe from falling poles.

CBS 2’s Suzanne Le Mignot got a first look inside that UIC lab that’s trying to tackle the problem she’s been covering for months.

If a 20-foot-high utility pole needed to be inspected, a Chicago Department of Transportation worker would have to come out with heavy equipment to inspect it from top to bottom. New research being done shows that a drone could be used to do that job.

Inside the UIC High Bay Structures Laboratory, researchers use drone video of a vibration study on an aluminum utility pole.

“There is something that hit the utility pole,” said Didem Ozevin, a professor of civil engineering at UIC, examining the pole. “It causes a lot of buckling here.”

They can see drone views from the top and on the side of the pole. Vibration studies are used to see how a pole moves, to detect the amount of damage it has.

A pole they observed moves in a circular pattern due to buckling at the base.

“It doesn’t say it’s going to fall, but it does say there is some damage to the structure that may require some precautions to be taken,” Ozevin said.

Ozevin and a team of his students have been studying utility poles donated by a construction company with help from CDOT.

They use drones in the lab to inspect power pole damage. Ozevin said his hope is to have drone technology to use in a cost-effective way to survey many power poles around the city, all at once.

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“The drone can capture the data from hundreds of utility poles in a single survey and that also provides some digital data that can be stored and compared to the next survey,” Ozevin said.

“These are a great example of the fundamental types of research we do and can have an impact on the daily lives of our city’s citizens,” said Lesley Sneed, director of the UIC High Bay Structures Laboratory.

Ozevin said they found that power poles fail primarily due to wind, such as a power pole that fell near Roosevelt and Clark and another that fell on top of a pickup truck at Halsted and Armitage in April.

Research also shows that rust that develops on steel utility poles can further weaken them, because rust reduces a utility pole’s load-bearing capacity.

“Over the years it accumulates, causing the loss of an entire section, as we see here,” Ozevin said.

So what about CDOT’s use of drones to inspect multiple utility poles during an inspection? Any CDOT spokesperson would say that they do not currently use drones.

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