Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Ohio researchers use smart sensors to predict power outages

Steve Rogerson
May 1, 2018

Since the natural breakdown of overhead power lines and underground cables is frequently discovered only after power has been lost, researchers at the University of Akron in Ohio are taking field-proven detection technology that can reliably predict, detect and prevent problems with electrical equipment and miniaturising it for applications on electrical distribution and transmission lines.
Jose Alexis De Abreu-Garcia and Yilmaz Sozer, professors of electrical engineering, are working with Exacter, a Columbus-based technology provider to the utilities industry, to create cell phone-sized smart sensors that can detect and measure radio frequency signals emitted from faulty components.
Currently, electrical equipment must be inspected on-site by powerline technicians. But the new sensors collect and transmit data that allow electric utilities to monitor the health of the grid continuously and pinpoint the problematic locations that could result in power failures, including fires and explosions.
“The sensors being developed by our team will be measuring various factors that can adversely impact electrical transmission and cause power outages,” said De Abreu-Garcia. “Many of these measurements are not being monitored or collected today.”
The project has received more than $3m in funding from the Ohio Development Service Agency’s innovation platform programme. It also has benefitted from the input of more than 25 major electrical utilities from around the country.
The sensors are among the latest contributions to the industrial IoT, a network of industrial structures equipped with electronic devices to facilitate communications and data exchange.
“Creating these never-before developed IIoT sensors was an ambitious undertaking, but our team of researchers has been up to the task,” said Sozer. “It has been a very good experience having our students go into the field and collaborate with the utilities on the testing and validation of these unique sensors and technology.”
The professors are working with Exacter to have a fully commercialised product by the end of the year, with Exacter releasing it to the utility industry in the first quarter of 2019.
“It’s been a very fruitful collaboration,” said John Lauletta, CEO and chief technical officer of Exacter. “We’re producing new, state-of-the-art technologies, and we’re applying those technologies to the electric grid and getting results already. Some of the country’s largest utilities are testing products from the University of Akron. The university is a leading provider of computer and electrical engineering talent to the US technology work sector. Projects like this and collaboration with leading technology companies help give Akron students a significant competitive advantage as they enter the workforce.”