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February 9, 2024

UI deploys ‘Sparky’ the robot-dog to hunt for problems at electrical substations

'Sparky' the robot-dog conducts visual and thermal inspections at United Illuminating substations in Bridgeport and New Haven.

Orange-based utility company Avangrid Inc. has deployed an AI robot-dog to help with substation inspections.

Avangrid, the parent company of United Illuminating, which provides electricity to more than 341,000 customers in Connecticut, developed the robotic dog with West Palm Beach-based AI company Levatas and the engineering company Boston Dynamic, based in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Nicknamed “Sparky,” the robot will conduct visual and thermal inspections of UI substations in Bridgeport and New Haven. It can read analog gauges, record thermal images and detect damaged equipment. 

“We’re very proud to once again be among the utility industry pioneers pushing the boundaries of technology,” said Pedro Azagra, CEO of Avangrid.

Azagra said the company began building machine-learning models last year, with the goal of increasing reliability for customers.

The robot has a camera with a 30-times optical zoom and an infrared camera capable of taking thermal readings to compare transformer and breaker phases, according to Avangrid’s announcement.

An acoustic sensor can be attached to the robot to detect and locate noise anomalies in real-time, the announcement states. 

The pilot project is still being tested and, for now, is operated by an on-site human using a tablet. Avangrid is also developing software that would enable remote operation.

“It's amazing to see this technology, which was inconceivable a few years ago, in our hands bringing value and benefits to our customers,” said Catherine Stempien, president and CEO of Avangrid Networks. “While there will be many benefits, most important is that we expect Sparky will increase the frequency of our substation inspections so that we can see how our equipment is functioning during different seasons, times of the day and energy loads.” 

Stempien said Sparky will help proactively identify issues and trends before they cause outages.

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