Thukten Zangpo    

Druk Holding and Investments (DHI) InnoTech, in collaboration with the Bhutan Power Corporation Limited (BPCL), will pilot a project to utilise drones for power maintenance and operation.

This will not only reduce the time necessary for power infrastructure maintenance, but also reduce the cost of routine maintenance and promote safety by minimising accidents during field inspections.

According to DHI InnoTech, Bhutan’s steep and rugged terrain makes the routine maintenance of transmission infrastructure highly difficult and poses huge risks to field inspectors.

BPCL Chief Executive Officer Sonam Tobjey said that drones can inspect the faults in power transmission lines and can almost immediately restore the power.

He said that underground power transmissions are expensive in Bhutan.

DHI InnoTech Director Ujjwal Deep Dahal said that using drones to survey power transmission lines will help with finding faults faster when there are disruptions in power lines during natural calamities, and also with building intelligent and smart preventive maintenance schedules.

He said that drones are used around the world for power line maintenance, and BPCL and InnoTech, DHI, have been working closely to build and utilise the technology. “We hope to optimize operation and maintenance costs and increase reliability, but more importantly also build homegrown technologies and systems.”

“As we fly the drone over the lines, we will capture images of various components of the power infrastructure using high-resolution cameras that can be used for preventive measures, as well as for optimizing the time and other resources for regular maintenance. The InnoTech team is also working on building machine learning or AI algorithms to eventually build automated identification of potential faults in the system,” he added.

Test flights are expected to be conducted in April this year. “It will be a challenge and an opportunity to fly a drone at a high altitude of 3,000m to 4,000m above sea level with varied or extreme weather conditions,” Ujjwal Deep Dahal said.

The InnoTech team is also working to design, prototype, and fabricate components of drones in its research centre.

“The larger opportunity is to build use cases with drones in the country to solve critical problems, build technology in-house, and the industry verticals collaborating with our colleges in Bhutan and universities startups around the world,” Ujjwal Deep Dahal said.

DHI InnoTech, as a full-fledged industry, wants to create opportunities for specialized employment, design approaches, and manufacture of drones to be used in various sectors. There are also plans to collaborate with universities to generate a talent pipeline in the country.