A giant power utility and unmanned aerial systems (UAS)—better known as drones—may seem like an unlikely combination, but Illinois-based Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) hopes to change that.

The utility, which has 3.8 million customers across northern Illinois, operates a distribution network that includes nearly 145,000 kilometres of power lines and more than 32,000 underground vaults.

“We have a big urban centre like Chicago, of course, but we have a large part of our territory that is rural. A lot of our lines are off the road. They’re along railroads, along lakes, and they’re hard to access,” says Terence Donnelly, ComEd’s executive vice-president and chief operating officer. “You need special equipment. A lot of times you have to walk these lines.”

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