Georgia Tech takes to the sky to sound out crossarms

Wooden poles do at least one thing better than steel: they rot. This can be especially dangerous at the crossarms, where collapses could trigger outages in an exponential domino effect. So, those crossarms need to be regularly and methodically inspected.

Your first option is to send a lineman up the pole to hit it with a hammer and listen to the wood-using his experience and judgement to label the crossarm’s durability by sound. It’s the traditional option, but it’s not exactly a scientific one.

And now there is a scientific one. Georgia Tech researchers have developed a new system for testing those wooden crossarms from the air. Strapping a laser vibrometer to a helicopter, the testers fly over the crossarms and-extrapolating on the basic premise of your lineman with the hammer-use the helicopter’s engine and rotors to make vibrations for measurements. Those measurements are then fed into a neural network-a type of computer with artificial intelligence-to read the patterns.

Miami-based flight company Air2 helps Georgia Tech researchers take their laser vibrometer/neural network crossarm testing application to the field. Photo courtesy of Paul Springer and Georgia Tech
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The brain child of NEETRAC’s (Georgia Tech’s National Electric Energy Testing, Research and Application Center) Paul Springer, the project was initiated and funded by Entergy Services Corp. Springer, a specialist in dynamics, worked with Dr. James Mahaffey of Georgia Tech’s Information Technology and Telecommunications Laboratory to design a method of diagnosing the crossarms-since no blueprint or baseline was already in existence to measure Springer’s vibrations against.

Springer and Mahaffey initially tested 15 crossarms in the lab to set the network. Then, Air2, a Miami-based flight company, allowed the researchers to strap a vibrometer to a helicopter and take their test to the field. After 92 crossarms and reams of data, Springer declared that the test “far exceeded the most optimistic expectations.”

Springer, Mahaffey and Georgia Tech have filed a provisional patent applications and are working toward commercialization of the effort.

More information on Georgia Tech’s crossarm project can be obtained by contacting Springer at 404-675-1815 or via e-mail at

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