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Using Autonomous Vehicles for Energy Infrastructure Monitoring

July 22, 2021

The potential for driverless technology is limitless and goes far beyond personal mobility. As a leader in the industry, we’re at the forefront of researching these possibilities.

As part of this research, Motional launched the first-ever pilot to study how autonomous vehicles could be used for energy infrastructure monitoring and maintenance. We believed the sensor technology on our vehicles could serve multiple purposes, capture real-time data on energy infrastructure, and ultimately, lead to fewer outages and better service for customers.

Reimagining how we use road data

Every day, Motional’s vehicles navigate roads across multiple cities and two continents as part of our road testing. This testing is paramount to the development of safe and capable autonomous systems and is a constant part of our work. During testing, the vehicles collect information on their surroundings, through the vehicle’s suite of sensors, in order to make smart driving decisions.

The road data collected is an invaluable tool in training our systems, but we knew it could be leveraged in other ways. Our test vehicles pass potholes, downed trees and power lines, and stalled traffic signals - among myriad other road occurrences that human drivers also face. What if our vehicles’ sensors could be used to transmit this information for faster assessment and fixes? Could autonomous vehicles be used for real-time infrastructure monitoring?

We wanted to find out.

Motional and Eversource partner on first-of-its-kind pilot

To do so, we partnered with Eversource to launch a first-of-its-kind pilot to deploy autonomous vehicles for the purpose of monitoring energy infrastructure and supporting ongoing maintenance.

Eversource is responsible for keeping the lights, heat, and stoves on for over four million electric and natural gas customers in New England, and is relentless in its efforts to better serve its customers and communities. As part of this commitment, Eversource regularly explores innovative technology solutions to achieve its broader goals for infrastructure maintenance and exceptional customer service.

Through the partnership, Motional’s test vehicles were deployed to collect information on Eversource’s utilities infrastructure in a designated test area. Motional’s vehicles surveyed a critical segment of Eversource’s infrastructure, collecting information on electric poles and wires, and automatically transmitted that information to Eversource’s database through an end-to-end data solution. These insights power Eversource’s preventative maintenance program as well as monitor for ongoing repairs and to assess damage from severe weather events. The goal was to use the data to reduce power outages and improve service.


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“At Eversource, we’re focused every day on innovative solutions to lower costs, enhance reliability, and advance clean energy for our customers and communities throughout New England,” said Eversource Program Manager for Substation Analytics Jaydeep Deshpande. “With Motional, we have one of the leaders in the autonomous vehicle industry, right in our backyard. This partnership will be focused on developing future inspection solutions by combining Motional's state-of-the-art vehicle platform with our in-house machine learning tools. It is an important part of our efforts to help make our inspection and maintenance processes more efficient, and we look forward to continuing our work together to better serve our customers.”

A new market opportunity

As we prepare for large-scale commercial deployments, we’re evaluating all of the unique ways our vehicles could be utilized to add value to the communities we serve. We’re only just beginning to scratch the surface of the full potential of autonomous vehicles, and this type of research is fundamental to maximizing the positive impact driverless technology will have in our communities.

Our partnership with Eversource lays the foundation for collaboration between the autonomous vehicle and energy industries. With energy infrastructure an ubiquitous part of roadways around the world, there’s an immense market for autonomous vehicles to provide more effective and efficient monitoring. It’s one of the many ways driverless technology can transform our cities and help improve our communities - and is what continues to drive Motional.