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Eskom Delegation Visits UKZN to Solidify Partnership on Power Line Inspection Robot

Ms Prudence Madiba and Professor Neil Koorbanally sign MOU on Eskom-UKZN partnership.

Eskom Delegation Visits UKZN to Solidify Partnership on Power Line Inspection Robot

UKZN’s Discipline of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering (EECE) hosted a delegation of Eskom representatives at the Science and Technology Innovation Park (STIP) on the Westville campus to further solidify an ongoing partnership between the two institutions.

The collaboration, driven by the development of the Power Line Inspection Robot, seeks to improve current inspection methods of power lines.

Established by Mr Trevor Lorimer and former UKZN Professor, Edward Boje, the inspection robot ‘started off as a master’s project to make powerline inspections a lot more efficient,’ said Lorimer who now heads the Power Line Robotics company as the Managing Director.

Having attracted funding from Eskom’s Research Testing and Development (RT&D), the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), and the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Economic Development, Tourism, and Environmental Affairs’ (EDTEA’s) Technology Transfer Fund, the Power Line Inspection Robot has also garnered interest from the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) in Japan to develop a robot they could trial through legal agreements.

The technology which has been patented in South Africa and the USA and commercialised by InQubate, UKZN’s technology transfer office, aims to cost-effectively reduce the number of faults on powerlines through the use of robotics while deriving the benefits of Power Line Robotics whose intellectual property is protected by UKZN and Eskom.

In his opening remarks, Dean of Research Professor Neil Koorbanally said the University was keen on strengthening partnerships with industry, government organisations and the external University community, to develop relevant and current research which is solving today’s problems.

He added: ‘We hope this sets the tone for further collaborations with the University in all spheres.’

General Manager at Eskom’s RT&D Ms Prudence Madiba said it was a great pleasure to return to her alma mater. Highlighting the role of her division in facilitating the development of technology within Eskom, and supporting the industry, she acknowledged how as a research centre they had a number of collaborations and initiatives nationally.

Evaluating the commercialisation of the Power Line Inspection Robot project, Madiba emphasised the changing tides in negotiating business with Eskom. She said: ‘We are not only funders, but partners there with the intent of making a difference in the economy, and benefiting the societies within which Eskom services.’

Senior lecturer in the Discipline of EECE Dr Andrew Swanson gave the delegates a tour of STIP which included the Smart Grid Building, the Vibration Research and Testing Centre (VRTC), and the High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) Centre.

In his vote of thanks, acting Director of the HVDC Centre Professor Leigh Jarvis thanked the Eskom delegation for their visit and longstanding relationship. Said Jarvis: ‘I consider the three buildings as an engineering jewel in the crown of UKZN. They are spaces where multi-disciplinary cross-pollination of ideas meet, allowing us to grow our inertia of research within the centre.’

Words: Hlengiwe Khwela

Photograph: Albert Hirasen