Israeli drones to help Florida’s emergency response to hurricane season

Percepto’s Sparrow can fly in winds up to 150 mph to assess storm damage

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Israeli startup Percepto's Sparrow I drone system: the base station (Courtesy)
Israeli startup Percepto's Sparrow I drone system: the base station (Courtesy)

Israeli startup Percepto, a maker of industrial drones, said that its Sparrow drone-in-a-box system been proven to be able to withstand winds of up to 150 mph, making it suitable to fly in the immediate aftermath of hurricanes to assess damage on the ground.

The drone developed by the Modiin-based startup has passed level 5 hurricane testing at the Florida International University Wall of Wind, which performs hurricane mitigation research by testing out technologies in high wind conditions. The drone solution is the first one to pass this level of testing, the startup said in a statement on Thursday, making it “the most rugged drone-in-a-box system on the market.” The Sparrow drone platform is able to land in high winds and in snow.

Ten percent of power outages globally are due to hurricanes, according to the World Bank, as they can directly damage the infrastructure of power plants and cooling towers.

The firm’s customers include electricity firms such as Florida Power and Light (FPL) and Italy’s Enel, as well as Fortune 500 customers in more than 10 countries.

The Sparrow system is set up to be stationed on-site, in a “base unit” — the box — where it lands, recharges, and transfers data it has acquired from its flights. The base also conducts maintenance checks on the functioning of the drone, verifying if repairs are needed.

Percepto’s technology allows customers to react immediately after a hurricane, assessing and fixing any damage without endangering staff, when the weather is still very challenging and residents are experiencing electricity outages.

FPL, one of the biggest energy companies in the US, posted $274 million of damages to its infrastructure in 2019 from Hurricane Dorian, which left 160,000 customers without power, according to the statement.

“As soon as the storm passes, we can have this up…inspecting our plant and knowing immediately what sort of damage we have so we’re able to get our power back on that much sooner… for a utility to be able to see our infrastructure in areas where we can’t get to safely; to quickly fly over it and understand what our conditions are…the safety of our crews is paramount,” Michael Dorr, a pilot for Florida Power & Light’s drone system, said in the statement.

FPL has six drones installed in five locations. By the end of the year FPL will have two further sites using Percepto’s solution on the Treasure Coast, one in St. Lucie County and another in Vero Beach, with a plan to deploy autonomous drones at all of its substations after that, the statement said.

FPL’s goal is to eventually put a drone-in-a-box at every substation, transmission yard, plant and solar facility, according to Eric Schwartz, manager of FPL’s aerial intelligence response. “We can fly every single day and use image recognition to be able to identify a potential issue and reduce the number of outages to our customers,” he said.

The Percepto Sparrow drones stay above 130 feet to avoid power poles and other obstructions.

“Covid-19 has left critical sites such as power stations bereft of crucial staff, while hospitals and homes have become more vulnerable, isolated and dependent on their utility providers. For our customers, drones ensure minimal downtime despite staff shortages and in the worst weather conditions,” Dor Abuahsira, CEO of Percepto, said in the statement.

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