WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Taking flight — new drone technology is helping Kansas keep the lights on, even in severe weather. For Evergy, the drones the company uses are like the Tesla of drones.

Mike Kelly, Evergy’s Unmanned Aerial System coordinator, said the drones are reaching new heights to detect issues before and after the lights go out. Within only a few minutes, the drone is set up, soaring to electrifying levels.

“It’s a lot quicker, a lot safer, and just around a lot more efficient all around,” said Kelly.

This drone is piloting a faster response time for Evergy crews. When it comes to severe weather, it allows crews to see what’s going on, instead of going in blind. 

“If the power is out, we’re going to be flying trying to restore power as quickly as possible,” said Kelly. 

Kelly said it shortens restoration efforts. 

“Anytime that a storm runs through, it’s ready to go,” he said. 

The drone also propels crews to get more done during routine maintenance. Kelly said traditionally it takes one day to inspect a substation, but now, they can do several within that time.

“With the drone you know we could do multiple subs within a day,” said Kelly. 

A thermal sensor can find hotspots — detecting a possible line failure that could cause outages. 

“We’re really able to see from all different angles of what could be causing a potential issue if a sensor, you know, trips and tells us that somethings hotter than it should be, we can take a look,” he said. 

The drones have 30 times the optical zoom, meaning crews can be far away and get a crisp look at any issues. 

Concern for safety is what got this drone program off the ground. Evergy was selected by the Kansas Department of Transportation to continue Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) research for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to help with UAS integration into the National Airspace System in late 2020. 

The initiative known as the BEYOND program tackles UAS integration challenges and safety concerns about using drones beyond the visual line of sight.  

The program is slated for a three to four-year research period and once completed, Evergy plans to secure a waiver allowing for non-line of sight operations.

The program is looking at merging various technologies into one system but making sure it’s safe. To operate a drone beyond the visual line of sight of the pilot, it takes many different technology systems to make this a reality. 

Along with Evergy, many other companies and universities within Kansas are involved in the program which is led by the Kansas Department of Transportation.