New handheld tool combines GNSS position, LIDAR modeling as well as compass laser range data
El Paso Electric transmission engineers report that a new handheld vegetation management monitoring device, the Aerotec Top Gun Veg-Tool, promises significant improvements and savings in vegetation management along its transmission lines. The new tool is a lightweight, single-operator device that from a single spot can be used to take shots of multiple trees within a given span to provide accurate and easy-to-read vegetation clearance information. The all-in-one device integrates Laser Technology’s TruPulse® 360 laser rangefinder and compass data, TOPCON’s GRS-1 GNSS position data, LIDAR-supplied multiple surface databases and GIS management software. “The TruPulse 360 has come a long way from our original handheld reflectorless total station, the Criterion, an integrated compass laser we introduced in the early nineties,” explains Steve Colburn, Laser Technology’s North American Sales Director. “We have successfully taken the package design of a recreational rangefinder and added professional-grade accuracy, superior optics and built-in measurement routines, making the TruPulse the most popular data collection laser in the world.” In field tests along portions of the El Paso Electric Springerville, Arizona to Deming, New Mexico 345 KV, three phase transmission line, engineers compared Top-Gun results against physical hardcopy and digital maps from a current LIDAR clearance inventory to verify that the appropriate clearance trees had been flagged and marked completely.
Ryan Paulk, PE, transmission engineer at El Paso Electric, envisions the new device as a lower cost vegetation maintenance tool. He points out that once a transmission line is flown, the LIDAR data of the topographic ground surfaces, fixed structures surface and line clearance modeling buffers around the hot wires can be saved in the Top Gun for later and repeated use by line patrols for years to come. In addition to storing LIDAR surface data Paulk notes that the tool automatically keeps records of the clearance of each checked tree using GIS information that includes the date and time, X, Y and Z location data and the clearance information. “A variety of additional attributes can be recorded and saved, such as species type and tree diameter at breast height, and if desired, growth can be observed year-to-year,” said Paulk.
“The clearance record of each tree checked is archived as a Shape file and Excel file in a central GIS database. Trees that may pierce the National Electric Safety Code (NESC) clearance envelope or the growth buffer are recorded and flagged for cutting or trimming. If tree cutting or trimming permission is required from a permitting agency, such as the United States Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management, a complete data set of the trees that pierce the buffer around the hot wire can be provided to the agency as well,” said Paulk.
The Top-Gun Veg Tool is easy to learn and to use. Initial training of the El Paso personnel, including calibration, start-up, field use, data download and data model handling and archiving took approximately two hours, and in very rugged terrain, more than five miles was covered on the first day. The TruPulse 360 laser rangefinder and compass, connected via Bluetooth, enables a single operator from a single spot to easily point, shoot and record multiple suspect trees up to 600 feet away above and below the observer. Gathering this data remotely is only possible because the TruPulse 360 is able to capture measurements to features without the need for a reflector or personnel holding a prism pole.
"Because the LIDAR modeling buffer can account for high-load and hot summer wire conditions, our crews can shoot the trees at any time of the year and still determine if the tree pierces the envelope. The Top-Gun yields efficient, reliable results and eliminates potential guess work," adds Paulk.
About El Paso Electric
El Paso Electric generates and distributes electricity through an interconnected system to approximately 372,000 customers in the Rio Grande Valley in west Texas and southern New Mexico.