WILLIAM RALSTON | JUL 5,
In March, a troop of engineers gathered in an unkept green field in rural Nottinghamshire, England. They were there to test a drone piloting software that they hoped could one day be in charge of maintaining the high-voltage pylons that transmit electricity across the country. Assuming the software was working, a drone was about to inspect a pylon from a few meters away, maneuvered not by a nearby pilot but a computer in a control station hundreds of meters away.
Seconds later, the dance began. Whizzing around, the drone took 65 photos that documented the condition of the pylon’s steel arms, fittings, and conductors. After only six minutes, the drone returned to the ground to a round of applause. By the time it had landed, it had already sent the photos to be analyzed for corrosion by an AI-powered system.