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Manifold Robotics Announces New Collaboration with NYPA for Safe Drone Operation Near Power Lines

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

Manifold Robotics Collaborates with New York Power Authority

to Enable Safe Drone Operation Near Power Lines

NYSERDA Provides More than $250,000 in Project Support

NEW YORK – Manifold Robotics today announced an agreement with the New York Power Authority (NYPA), the nation's largest state public power organization, to develop unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) capable of operating safely near power lines. With partial funding from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), under this project, new sensing technologies and algorithms will be developed and commercialized to enable UASs, more commonly known as drones, to detect, avoid, or autonomously track along transmission lines using the electromagnetic fields (EMF) that they emit. The EMF naturally produced by all energized transmission lines will enable UASs to safely traverse electric utility right-of-ways with improved locational awareness of power lines.

Utilities around the world have begun using UASs for such power line inspections as a replacement for helicopter-based methods. Helicopters can be noisy, expensive and potentially risky. However, operating in environments with transmission lines presents significant operational challenges as high electromagnetic fields tend to destabilize conventional UAS navigation systems. In addition, the low visibility of power lines impacts situational awareness of UAS operators thus greatly increasing the chances of collisions with lines and associated structures.

Manifold Robotics is developing a sensor-based detection method for identifying energized power lines in the vicinity of an unmanned aircraft. Based on technology originally developed by the U.S. Army that spun off from a Department of Defense-sponsored proof-of-concept project at New York University, the technology enables UASs to sense EMF from transmission lines at a distance. Through Manifold Robotics, the team is now working to continue developing and finetuning the technology for UAS-based commercial applications

“The Power Authority and other utilities around the country can significantly benefit from being able to fully integrate unmanned aircraft systems into inspections of power lines and transmission towers,” said Alan Ettlinger, NYPA’s director of Research, Technology Development & Innovation. “This technology will enable drone aircraft to track along and avoid hitting power lines, even when used beyond the visual line of sight. This will result in increased cost savings and improved reliability over conventional radar or laser-based systems.”

NYPA’s role in the project includes participation in various aspects of design, build and testing of the EMF sensing technology.

“We're very excited to be collaborating with the team at the New York Power Authority on this important technology development. With this new power line sensing technology, we expect that the full potential of UASs will finally be realized for power line inspection and measurement,” said Jeff Laut, CEO at Manifold Robotics.

With this new technology, Manifold intends to create a UAS-based system that removes major safety and cost issues for the utility industry’s power line inspection effort. In addition, Manifold Robotics anticipates the technology to enable beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations allowing power line inspection to be conducted autonomously.

“NYSERDA is proud to invest in this novel solution to make aerial drones a safe, reliable, and ubiquitous tool for performing power line inspections for a 21st century electric grid. Congratulations to Manifold Robotics and NYPA on this collaborative opportunity to develop and demonstrate the value that innovative technology can bring to New York’s electric system operators,” said Doreen M. Harris, Acting President and CEO, NYSERDA.

Funding for this project is provided by NYPA and NYSERDA through its Electric Power Transmission and Distribution High Performing Grid Program, which makes investments in research and development that accelerate the realization of an advanced, digitally enhanced and dynamically managed electric grid. While the pandemic response delayed the initial start of the commercialization program, the Manifold Robotics team has now launched its product development effort, which is expected to last about 24 months.

“Our intent is that the cost and reliability improvements of our technology will be a timely benefit for energy utilities,” Laut projected.

About Manifold Robotics

Founded in 2016, Manifold Robotics Inc. was a spinoff from New York University Tandon School of Engineering with Jeffrey Laut as President and CEO. At that time, Manifold focused on robotics, human-machine interaction, and environmental science seeking to commercialize a small-scale autonomous robotic vehicle designed to collect data on water quality. The team was awarded a grant from PowerBridgeNY as well as an NSF SBIR Phase I award. The power line detection technology was first launched as a startup project funded by the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN), a Department of Defense innovation program office, to facilitate the transfer and transition of defense dual-use technology. The postdoctoral project, led by Jeffrey Laut and under the direction of Prof. Maurizio Porfiri, was incubated in the Dynamical Systems Lab at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, where the objective was to validate the technology and create a viable commercialization strategy.

About NYPA

The New York Power Authority (NYPA) is the largest state public power organization in the nation, operating 16 generating facilities and more than 1,400 circuit-miles of transmission lines. More than 80 percent of the electricity NYPA produces is clean renewable hydropower. NYPA uses no tax money or state credit. It finances its operations through the sale of bonds and revenues earned in large part through sales of electricity. For more information visit and follow us on Twitter @NYPAenergy, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and LinkedIn.


Clean energy can power New York while protecting the environment. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, known as NYSERDA, promotes energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources. These efforts are key to developing a less polluting and more reliable and affordable energy system for all New Yorkers. Collectively, NYSERDA’s efforts aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, accelerate economic growth, and reduce customer energy bills.

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Contact: Art Julius

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