Sharper Shape finds a solution in the sky
Flying well ahead of the competition, this fleet of drones is cutting costs for the electricity industry.
Either way you approach it, Mumbai is a breathtaking experience. A vibrant commercial hotspot, teeming with life, the Indian metropolis is home to 20 million people. Each of these residents has their own unique story. Many too have stars in their eyes, for here resides the birthplace of Bollywood.
Fittingly, there was no shortage of star power on hand last spring when Finnish company Sharper Shape signed a collaboration agreement in Mumbai with Sterlite Grid. This contract with India’s largest developer of private transmission systems was inked in the presence of Finnish Prime Minster Juha Sipilä, who was in town to promote Finnish business opportunities.
“Going there together with the Prime Minister really pushed things forward,” recalls Sharper Shape chairman Samuel Salmenlinna. “The guys at Sterlite Grid were eager to do the signing.”
Such enthusiasm is being increasing met by this Finnish company.
“We apply unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), advanced sensor systems and analytics for power line inspection,” Salmenlinna explains. “Our focus right now is on electricity transmission and distribution. Other assets such as railroads, bridges, roads, oil and gas infrastructure are very relevant for us as well.”
Widely known as drones, Sharper Shape’s UAVs use advanced algorithms to significantly reduce inspection and maintenance costs by identifying potential hazards and weak points in the power distribution network. These include the likes of trees posing a risk to power outages during storms, along with broken insulators and infrastructure corrosion.
The company has taken off quickly since it was established in 2013. Collaborating with the Finnish power industry early on in the piece was a shrewd move, giving it unprecedented foresight to the industry’s prospects. As a result, plans for manned helicopters and foot patrols were quickly scuppered in favour of drones.
Sharper Shape then worked with the Finnish Civil Aviation Authority to explore ways in which they could maximise the potential of propeller power. Its big breakthrough came when Finland began to allow commercial flying of drones beyond visual line of sight – one of the first countries worldwide to do so.
“This created a competitive advantage for us here, which we have now been able to utilise when opening other markets,” Salmenlinna comments.
Alongside its ballooning success in India, Sharper Shape is also eagerly awaiting the green light from another significant marketplace: the USA. The regulation for flying drones beyond the visual line of sight is set to open there later this year.
“We are applying the very same concept as we did in Finland,” Salmenlinna explains. “We are working together with the Federal Aviation Administration and the power industry there to enable flight beyond visual line of sight in the context of electricity transmission and distribution.”
Such familiarity gives the company a significant competitive advantage over the competition. Local offices have already been established in Palo Alto and North Dakota in anticipation of a bright future.
“We have a real chance to be the US market leader in a very short period of time,” Salmenlinna admits.
A breakthrough Stateside will open the floodgates for a wave of drones disrupting the way utility and asset owners do business. For Salmenlinna this is in keeping with theories of the imminent Fourth Industrial Revolution, one where robots assume many of the tasks that humans currently undertake.
“One core part of this revolution is advanced algorithms, analytics and self-learning systems,” he states. “We are at the forefront of this major megatrend.”