Background Utilities struggle with inaccurate data, lack of standards and vendor "lock-in," which can prevent the cost effective use of their technology investment. Data exists in disparate systems, inaccessible to both the operations center and field personnel. Mobile computer power is wasted displaying out-of-date or irrelevant data. Often, data is not used because it is not available in the vendor specific software that is loaded on the mobile computing device. In short, the investment made in IT by utilities has yet to reach its full potential.
As utilities begin to integrate systems that previously operated with little or no data interconnection, it becomes easier to link together related data. Creating access to that data in a visual way could be of significant benefit to utilities. A standards based IT architecture is needed for the visualization of data and the use of visual data in the decision making process. This can result in the creation of powerful diagnostic and management tools that can utilize interconnected data and make it accessible to utility professionals to better understand the network and the context of any unexpected behavior.
Industry Opportunity Emerging technologies in the mobile computing field could be used to create a mobile integrated data access platform. One such emerging technology that exists in other industries is augmented reality. Augmented reality is believed to have been coined in 1990 by Thomas Caudell, who worked at Boeing, and is a combination of computer generated elements such as geospatial data, sensory input, video and other graphics that are overlaid on a direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment. The reality that is displayed to the user by a device has additional context aware information added (or augmented) to it. Augmenting reality is a way to enhance the user's current perception of reality. A familiar example of augmented reality is superimposing the line of scrimmage and the 10 yard line-to-gain colored lines that are now commonly displayed during televised football games in the United States.
Developing New Technology The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) is developing data visualization technology for the utility engineering and operations professionals. Using tablet and smart phone technologies, real-time data from the internal magnetometer and 3-axis gyroscopic are combined to stabilize and provide a more accurate "compass" when a user points the mobile device at distribution pole or at transmission and distribution conductors. Global Positioning System (GPS) and Common Information Model (CIM) messages serve to locate and retrieve segmented GIS data from a utility GIS database and the device renders the GIS data segments on screen as a map information overlay from the camera image. An example of this would be seeing a pole structure symbol through the camera while the screen displays the camera image with the one line circuit drawing overlaid.
This data serves as an overlay on live camera images that incorporates the data from multiple sources and wraps the information into a picture of real images and enhanced data overlays. This augmented live camera data can serve to present data overlays such as the maintenance history of a power line device, fault location data, asset ID information, and outage management information in a concise form at the specific location. Data can be hidden or displayed on screen as needed. The rendered information links to other systems in the utility back office such as the outage management system (OMS), work management system, asset management system, document management system and other systems and databases. By utilizing the touch screen capabilities of the tablet platform, actions may be performed that link the user in the field to the capabilities in the back office via further CIM messaging.
Illustrating How This Technology Can Be Applied To illustrate how this can work, consider an engineer or technician working in the field that has been assigned to assess the condition and performance of distribution assests in a specific neighborhood. Upon arriving at a location, the GIS and magnetometer (compass) built into a tablet would identify the location and by holding up the tablet, would allow them to see in real-time a video of the area with data overlays on the view and a single line diagram and on the map. Using this interface this person could navigate through all the data for a transformer or switching device, identify its location in the GIS and a single-line; be shown the down-stream circuit on a map, query into its asset history, maintenance history, manufacturer information and catalogue. They could also query as to the state of a switch, execute a switching order, display maintenance procedures, identify premises with outages, automatically tag devices, create work orders, etc. This could all be possible with a properly integrated data environment and accurate GIS data.
The mobile device would use its computational power to render segments of the GIS data base much the same way as games do today. These segments of the GIS database can be sent wirelessly or held in local mobile device memory for image rendering. High speed wireless data coupled with CIM commands allow a variety of database information to be interfaced for a fast, seamless visualization of the data on the mobile device. Evolving technology advances already allow higher wireless data transmission speeds for communication to mobile devices. These technologies, coupled with the rapid development of mobile device capabilities will largely overcome the obstacles that have plagued mobile computing in the past: inferior performances (CPU, memory), connectivity (latency, bandwidth, reliability) and usability (small screen, uncomfortable input controls).
As a first step in bringing this technology to reality in utility environments, EPRI is developing a field force data visualization tool on an iOS based device (such as an iPad or iPhone) which utilizes the Common Information Model (CIM) for messaging. The advantages of such a platform include:
Cost - this platform can be considerably cheaper than a tough-book style laptop.
Simplicity - upgrades to iOS devices are simple and can be done in the field.
Communication - iOS devices typically switch from Wi-Fi to cellular communications and back without issue.
Cloud data and computing capabilities - large amounts of data could be securely transferred directly between devices even over large geographic distances.
Potential for the Industry The impact of this technology on utility field operations could be significant. The cost of automating field operations could be greatly reduced because even when ruggedized, the tablet platform would still be substantially less costly than traditional ruggedized laptops. Operational costs could be reduced because the application on the tablet would replace a number of seat licenses for the individual applications that are currently needed. Finally, operational efficiencies could be increased as work such as maintenance, switching, design, storm damage and outage restoration workflows would be performed from a common platform that would link the correct data with the correct systems.
About EPRI The Electric Power Research Institute, Inc. (EPRI, www.epri.com
) conducts research and development relating to the generation, delivery and use of electricity for the benefit of the public. An independent, nonprofit organization, EPRI brings together its scientists and engineers as well as experts from academia and industry to help address challenges in electricity, including reliability, efficiency, health, safety and the environment. EPRI's members represent more than 90 percent of the electricity generated and delivered in the United States, and international participation extends to 40 countries. EPRI's principal offices and laboratories are located in Palo Alto, Calif.; Charlotte, N.C.; Knoxville, Tenn.; and Lenox, Mass.
Contacts: Don Kintner Communications Manager 704-595-2506 firstname.lastname@example.org