ULC Robotics develops VTOL UAS for commercial applications in utility industry



ULC Robotics, Inc. has completed successful flight testing of a newly developed vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) fixed-wing UAS.

As a robotics, energy services and research and development company with a focus on the energy and utility industries, UCL Robotics has developed this commercial-grade VTOL UAS to “meet the inspection needs of electric and gas utilities.”

ULC’s Aerial Services and engineering teams designed and built the UAS from the ground up. Thanks to a sensor payload capacity of 10 pounds, the aircraft, which has a 10-foot wingspan, can conduct fully-autonomous aerial inspections and assessments of different utility structures and properties, such as right of ways, gas transmission pipelines, and electrical transmission lines.

To develop the VTOL UAS with the most “beneficial commercial utility applications,” ULC Aerial Services is working with gas and electric utilities from around the country.

Upcoming test flights and pilot programs using the UAS will play a crucial role in the aircraft’s ability to collect valuable imagery and data, for enhancing utility infrastructure.

ULC will equip the UAS with a variety of sensor and monitoring payloads, to allow the platform to “collect specialized data for the divisions’ utility customers.”

The UAS will continue to be flight tested with “radiometric thermal cameras and high-resolution DSLR imaging systems,” and more than one system can be included on the aircraft at a time, thanks to its payload capacity. ULC also plans to integrate LiDAR, gas leak detection sensors and other advanced systems onto the payload of the UAS.

For its vertical take-off and landing capabilities, the UAS has a set of eight quadcopter rotors, and after reaching an altitude and airspeed that have been predetermined, the UAS transitions into “highly-efficient, forward flight combining the practical functionalities of multi-rotor UAV and the speed and range of a fixed-wing aircraft.”

Currently, the UAS is running an electric propulsion system with a flight time of 60 to 90 minutes. In the near future, ULC Aerial Services plans on integrating an electric/gas hybrid propulsion system that will allow for a five-hour endurance, as well as a 50 MPH cruise speed (250-mile range), which will lay the foundation for beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations.

A strategic aspect of the aerial services program involves the planning for BVLOS flights with the VTOL UAS and ULC’s other unmanned aircraft. This will allow the company’s utility customers to “adopt the most efficient and cost-effective UAV services.”

Using the VTOL UAS, utility inspectors can assess infrastructure health from the safety of their desk using the data that is collected from the UAS, which is a safer alternative to electric utility infrastructure inspection methods that are currently used.

Current methods oftentimes require utilities to fly helicopters over the inspection site several times a year, which can be a costly process, and a dangerous one for workers due to low airspeed and altitude.

Between offsetting the use of helicopters, and its sensor payload, the VTOL UAS “brings a new level of innovation to utilities that improves asset reliability, reduces the environmental footprint and increases safety.”

Speaking about the UAS, Mike Passaretti, ULC Aerial Services Program Manager, says, “the combination of extended flight time, speed, and range offers enhanced inspections and assessments that improve upon the capabilities of current utility inspection techniques.”