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Italian energy giant uses Israeli drone to oversee plant maintenance

At Enel’s power plant in northern Italy, Modiin-based startup Percepto’s Sparrow will be on the lookout

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

Enel's Ernesto Ciorra, Head of Innovability, with Percepto's drone (Courtesy)
Enel's Ernesto Ciorra, Head of Innovability, with Percepto's drone (Courtesy)

Italy’s energy giant Enel is partnering with Israeli drone-developing startup Percepto, and will use its Sparrow drone system, which has the capability of being fully autonomous, to oversee operations and maintenance at one of its power plants in northern Italy.

Enel, a multinational manufacturer and distributor of electricity and gas, has adopted drone technology as part of its digitalization program to increase efficiency and support the safety of its generation assets and processes. At Enel’s Torrevaldaliga Nord power plant, the Sparrow drone will fly in automated mode under the supervision of an operator who can take control of the device at any moment, as Italy’s regulatory framework does not currently allow fully autonomous drone flight.

Powered by computer vision and AI technology, the Sparrow drone, first unveiled in November last year, carries a permanent dual payload of regular and night-vision (thermal) cameras enabling round-the-clock operations, including the collection of aerial video, snapshots and data that can be transmitted to Enel personnel in real-time. When flying autonomously, Sparrow conducts inspection missions without any human intervention, the companies said in a statement.

This robot monitor acts autonomously, collecting data, analyzing it and transmitting “highly accurate and actionable information” to the customer when necessary, the Modiin, Israel-based Israeli company said.

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

Sparrow is stationed on-site at Enel’s Torrevaldaliga Nord power plant and is housed in a self-contained base unit where it launches from and lands autonomously. The Percepto Base shelters, charges, transfers data and conducts “health checks” on the drone when it is not in operation. The system is designed to withstand harsh weather conditions, such as heavy rain, snow and dust, allowing it to operate year-round, Percepto said.

Percepto’s so called “drone-in-a-box solution” makes aerial missions easier to conduct, increasing flight frequency and the probability of anomaly detection at an early stage. Once an anomaly is detected, the drone sends out an alert in real-time, describing the nature of the problem and reporting its location. Sparrow’s ongoing data collection and analysis enables preventative maintenance, leading to a reduction in operational costs and improved site productivity, Percepto said.

“While drones are touted as the technology of the future, the ability to act autonomously unlocks their true potential, enabling them to act as a responsible, independent and smart ‘team member’ that provides not only a bird’s-eye view of facilities, but real, actionable insights,” said Dor Abuhasira, CEO of Percepto.

Italy’s Enel opened its innovation hub in Tel Aviv in 2016 to tap into Israeli technologies.

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