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AI could improve the electrical grid, U of T researchers say

AI and the electrical grid AI and the electrical grid, an electrifying combo? New research incorporating artificial intelligence could potentially help power providers track inconsistencies in an electrical grid.

Professor Kyros Kutulakos, with the University of Toronto’s department of computer science, is working alongside researchers from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology to create, “a camera that records the city’s lights at a slower speed to get more accurate readings of changing voltages at particular locations.”

Their goal with this research is that it will give utility companies greater insight by having the ability to monitor, “how voltage shifts and propagates throughout the grid, partly to regulate it and partly to monitor any instability – like a blackout,” says U of T news.

Kutulakos explained lights flicker because they are powered by alternating current, and by electric grid’s different phases. There is hope that a combo of AI and the electrical grid can improve that.

“With a camera, remotely, we can begin to observe a big part of the city, and its electrical phases,” he says.

The researchers used computer vision, a subfield of artificial intelligence, as well as combining other areas: optics, image processing, and electrical grid engineering.

“To collect this data, the researchers needed to capture the lights’ flicker. Light emitted from light connected to the electricity grid is constantly changing, but because of the high speed of this effect, people do not sense this flickering,” U of T News explains.

 

“The hope is that eventually we’ll be able to get at much denser measurement on the state of the grid, and understand what the voltage is at that particular location, optically, without physically connecting to it…”

 

Kutulakos said they were unable to capture a long exposure image, due to the variations being averaged out.

“On the other hand, we are also dealing with scenes at night –there isn’t enough light to do it,” he added.

Mark Sheinin of Technion-Israel Institute of Technology traveled to Toronto last year to assist the researchers in constructing the “ACam”, which is an alternating current camera that captures the grid’s light pulses. Sheinin then returned to Haifa, Israel to build a replica of this camera.

Kutulakos said a camera was required that would allow them to control exactly when each pixel records light.

“In this case, it’s always going to be synchronized with the alternating current. The camera shutter remains open for two, three seconds, but it’s not going to record light continuously,” he explained. “In the end, we’ll have enough light to give us a single image.”

The researcher’s database distinguishes the varying types of artificial light, such as sodium street lamps and LEDs, as well as indoor lighting.

“The hope is that eventually we’ll be able to get at much denser measurement on the state of the grid, and understand what the voltage is at that particular location, optically, without physically connecting to it,” said Kutulakos.

Kutulakos and Sheinin, as well as Professor Yoav Schechner of Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, are presenting their study ‘Computational Imaging on the Electric Grid’ on July 22 at the Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition conference of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

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