Nvidia Hardware Puts Power Pole Tracking Technology to the Test

Nvidia affiliate Noteworthy AI’s software is helping FirstEnergy inspect its utility pole network using computer vision

Callum Cyrus

December 16, 2021

2 Min Read

FirstEnergy has completed a pilot program demonstrating how computer vision can be deployed to analyze thousands of utility pole infrastructure images.

The company teamed up with Noteworthy AI to install smart cameras in its utility truck fleet, with software powered by edge AI chips from Nvidia’s offering.

FirstEnergy’s utility pole network spans 269,000 miles of distribution lines, from New Jersey to Ohio.

The Noteworthy.AI platform provides a geolocation for each pole before visually picking out the presence of components like insulators and current transformers. The computer vision software can then gauge whether it is physically damaged.

Nvidia says manual maintenance workers inspect a fraction of the 185 million utility poles in the U.S. in a single year. It would take an entire decade for them to inspect all of them. 

In a pilot test last summer, FirstEnergy’s technology collected more than 5,000 high-resolution images of its poles within 30 days, which expanded its database by more than fivefold, according to Nvidia.

In addition, superior image quality is anticipated to help avoid wasted visits by engineers to locations where the actual line conditions differ from initial expectations.

Since completing the initial test, a subsidiary of FirstEnergy focused on streetlights joined the program along with a unit that tracks vegetation growth around the company’s power infrastructure. The follow-up pilot covers more utility trucks over a larger area.

Noteworthy AI’s smart camera module attaches to the truck with magnets or suction cups and links to a smaller unit inside the truck’s cab that processes the images and AI from the Nvidia Jetson Xavier NX kit.

As it scales its business model, the company expects to introduce more Nvidia edge chips to cope with the workload, according to its founder Chris Ricciuti.

Ricciuti said moving AI compute to the edge yielded considerable cost savings.

“We developed a pretty sophisticated workflow that runs at the edge on Jetson,” he said. “With customer use cases growing, we’ll graduate to products like Jetson AGX Orin in the future — Nvidia has been awesome in computing at the edge.”

Noteworthy AI is part of the ecosystem of Nvidia’s Inception program, which provides preferential access to its cloud and hardware resources to young AI startups.

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