A major storm has impacted the Peoria area. Hundreds of power poles and wires are down, and some streets have been closed off as state and local officials attempt to clear debris. Up the road, a major sub-transmission line has been damaged, impacting electric service for thousands of customers. Local officials estimate it will be at least three hours before Ameren Illinois trucks will be allowed in to inspect the damaged equipment and begin to repair it.

But soon, the low hum of an unmanned aircraft whirs above as workers back at the operating center get their first peak—on video—of the scene that awaits their crews.

As a company focused on continuous improvement, Ameren Illinois actively searches for commercially available technology and new ideas to improve customer service and enhance our natural gas and electric service delivery.

For the past 18 months, a team of coworkers has studied how drones could be implemented in daily operations, as well as post-storm restoration efforts. The technology has been available for some time, but the Federal Aviation Administration had long required an individual drone operator to obtain a pilot’s license. The agency recently changed its requirements, and now would-be pilots must pass a test before being able to legally fly a drone.

We are excited about the use of drone technology and can see a number of ways we can use it to benefit our business and residential customers:

Our goal is to eventually have a drone in every operating center, with coworkers properly trained to operate the technology. iBi

Daetta Jones is Director of Division Operations for Ameren Illinois.