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Power pylon detection and monocular depth estimation from inspection UAVs

Oualid Araar (Centre for Electronic Warfare, Cranfield University, Shrivenham, UK)
Nabil Aouf (Centre for Electronic Warfare, Cranfield University, Shrivenham, UK)
Jose Luis Vallejo Dietz (Gas Natural Fenosa, Barcelona, Spain)

Industrial Robot

ISSN: 0143-991x

Article publication date: 18 May 2015



This paper aims to present a new vision-based approach for both the identification and the estimation of the relative distance between the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and power pylon. Autonomous power line inspection using small UAVs, has been the focus of many research works over the past couple of decades. Automatic detection of power pylons is a primary requirement to achieve such autonomous systems. It is still a challenging task due to the complex geometry and cluttered background of these structures.


The identification solution proposed, avoids the complexity of classic object recognition techniques. Instead of searching the whole image for the pylon template, low-level geometric priors with robust colour attributes are combined to remove the pylon background. The depth estimation, on the other hand, is based on a new concept which exploits the ego-motion of the inspection UAV to estimate its distance from the pylon using just a monocular camera.


An algorithm is tested on a quadrotor UAV, using different kinds of metallic power pylons. Both simulation and real-world experiments, conducted in different backgrounds and illumination conditions, show very promising results.

Research limitations/implications

In the real tests carried out, the Inertial Navigation System (INS) of the vehicle was used to estimate its ego-motion. A more reliable solution should be considered for longer distances, by either fusing INS and global positioning system data or using visual navigation techniques such as visual odometry.


A simple yet efficient solution is proposed that allows the UAV to reliably identify the pylon, with still a low processing cost. Considering a monocular solution is a major advantage, given the limited payload and processing power of such small vehicles.



This work is the result of collaboration with ”Gas Natural Fenosa”, power company, Spain. The authors gratefully acknowledge the help provided by the company.


Araar, O., Aouf, N. and Vallejo Dietz, J.L. (2015), "Power pylon detection and monocular depth estimation from inspection UAVs", Industrial Robot, Vol. 42 No. 3, pp. 200-213.



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