back to article What a re-leaf: IBM's AI smarts to tell 'leccy companies when their bushes need trimming

Not satisfied with trimming headcount, IBM has turned its gaze to chopping trees that might interfere with power lines. The technology, unveiled at Distributech 2019, is geared towards preventing power outages by identifying trees (and other vegetation) that pose a threat to overhead cables. Tree surgeons and other workers …

  1. AndrueC Silver badge

    So..they've got to the root of the problem?

    1. jake Silver badge

      I twigged that we should leaf this one alone, but after checking with the branch office and getting barked at, frankly I'm stumped.

      1. AndrueC Silver badge

        Have you had a look at the log files?

        1. jake Silver badge

          I'm chipping away at them.

  2. Ima Ballsy


    She says my bush always need a trimin'

  3. Jemma Silver badge

    Let's say..

    .. you wanted to get the average rain on all agricultural land during the growing season in Kenya...

    Well that's simple. Not enough.

    Can I have my £1.5bn now?

    I would turn sarcasm mode off ladies and gentlemen - but the button fell out of the dashboard.

    "IBM - if BL made computers™"

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Let's say..

      If you are not getting enough rain for your crop of choice ... choose a new crop. In Kenya, specifically, they have switched from corn (maize to you Brits) to various drought-tolerant legumes. Agriculture doesn't require computers, humans have been managing it for 10,000 years or more.

  4. DougS Silver badge

    Where I live

    In rural areas for high power lines they cut a ~50 foot wide corridor through the trees, not specifically because of this problem (the towers are higher than the tops of the trees) but because they need access to drive big equipment in there if maintenance is required. Cutting corridors may be a bit unsightly, and more expensive to maintain (I guess they run a bush mower through there every few years or something?) but it would seem to be a better strategy for places like California where a single fire can cost billions.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Where I live

      Actually, in California the brain-trust at PG&E has decided that instead of maintaining their right-of-way through judicious pruning, and instead of actually maintaining their equipment, they are going to cut all power to affected areas during inclement weather.

      I'm not bullshitting. Their new idea to save money is to kill the power on purpose during storms! Now THAT's what I like to see in a public utility! Fuck the general public, make certain the shareholders get paid! PG&E says "It's to save lives and property", and with a straight face. What a bunch of crap, everybody knows it's purely to avoid spending money on maintenance.

      (We've already had PG&E power cuts during bad weather here at Chez jake ... it's not going to affect us directly because I have backup power, but the entire tourist town of Calistoga was closed down for several days last year, costing local residents tens of millions of dollars in lost income.)

      1. W.S.Gosset Bronze badge

        Re: Where I live

        > Their new idea to save money is to kill the power on purpose during storms!

        If it's any consolation, the bulk of Australia is heading that way. Virtue-Displayers posturing about faux-renewable energy, shutting down coal, relying on special magic ultra supplies magically appearing magically from magical interstate magic, and oh! dear! A WEATHER!!

        We have 2 entire states unable to supply their own power, both of which have had catastrophic blackouts. Victoria recently shut down ALL businesses, seeking to avoid PR-drama by not blacking out homes, but still had to black out quarter of a million residential people. Both states are hard hard posturers on faux-renewable energy, but the worst, South Australia, which had a whole-state blackout courtesy of dud wind farms and interstate neediness, afterwards quietly installed A$425m worth of diesel generators as backup which burn 80,000 litres of diesel an hour. GREEN!

        Oh, and a much-trumpeted PR-exercise where Elon Musk installed a A$100m battery. Yay! GREEN! Provides 2.5mins of power. Over a period of an hour and a quarter. USEFUL!

        Likewise, big bushfires triggered in New South Wales by plants on transformers. Forest can no longer be managed because the faux-greens claim whites are evil and kill trees and trees must do whatever they want. Forgetting of course that 90% of those trees didn't exist when the whites arrived, due to the aborigines burning off as part of their wildlife/food management. The bulk of NSW's hinterland is essentially fuel now (gum trees drop a LOT of eucalyptus-drenched bark, plus they can spontaneously light when air temp reaches 48C -- cf. "crown fire"), hence the bushfires which nowadays go ballistic.

        The new head of Australia's energy is totally right-on, wind+solar are the only way forward, and she was shocked, SHOCKED I tell you!, at the terrible terrible unforeseeable blackout. We have to LEARN, she said. Demand-Management is the Way Of The Future!

        AKA wind down supply, cut people off, black people out. Yay for smart meters which make it even easier!

        All for the sake of virtue-display posturing by people who have seen photos of trees and have been told they're threatened.

        1. Francis Boyle Silver badge


          The Tesla battery is there to provide very fast response (sub-second) load balancing in order to prevent the sort of cascading blackouts that happened in 2016. It does that very well, while saving considerable amounts of money. (It's much cheaper to draw from a battery to deal with transient demand than spin up a power plant.) And no, Victoria didn't shut down all businesses. In the face of a massive heat-wave some of the largest users were asked to cut production so that the AC could stay on.

          I know, it's a waste of time replying to people who think the use of all caps is a persuasive rhetorical technique, but as an Australian I feel some sort of duty to correct people spouting nonsense about my country.

  5. Paul Herber
    1. DCFusor Silver badge

      Oh no, I've said "it" again!

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Better strategy for the public .ne. better strategy for the Board of Directors

    "Cutting corridors may be a bit unsightly, and more expensive to maintain) but it would seem to be a better strategy for places like California where a single fire can cost billions."

    Way to miss the point.

    Who pays for the cutting? Who benefits financially if it's not done?

    The cost of the consequences of an avoidable fire is not generally passed on to the people (NB board level people, not the corresponding corporate entities) whose complacency, and emphasis on cost-cutting over public safety, let it happen.

    If it was...

    1. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: Better strategy for the public .ne. better strategy for the Board of Directors

      >Who pays for the cutting? Who benefits financially if it's not done?

      In the US power line corridors usually belong to the utility, its not like the UK where you get pylons just marching across the landscape. These lines, though, aren't the problem in California. Here, the majority of lines are carried on wooden poles. These lines can carry one or more circuits that might be anything from 8Kv to 100Kv or more. Once the winds get up -- the Santa Ana winds roar through the canyons at high speed, they're hot and very dry -- there's not just the risk of vegetation touching the lines but also the poles snapping. It only takes one spark to start a major wildfire and as you've seen in the news the resulting damage runs into billions of dollars, a potential liability for the utility. In CA they will be liable if they are found to be negligent so there should be a ready market for this software; it may not prevent all fires but it will at least help demonstrate that the utility is trying.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Better strategy for the public .ne. better strategy for the Board of Directors

        They don't own the corridors. They have a right-of-way through them, and are charged with maintaining it. It's a subtle difference, but a difference nonetheless.

  7. jake Silver badge

    As a land owner and a logger and a computer guy ...

    ... I'm here to tell you there is absolutely no way in hell that a computer program will EVER come close to boots on the ground observation. This thing is a boondoggle cashing in on the Western States wildfires ... Ambulance chasing of the worst kind.

  8. Jimmy2Cows

    ...produces datasets based on satellites, drones, aerial flights, IoT sensors and weather models

    Or... and hear me out here... you could, oh I dunno, have an actual employee walk/drive/drone the cable route and eyeball it. You know. A "job".

    Can I have my $1.5 billion now?

    Seems like someone will have to do that anyway. To verify the AI positive are indeed true positives, and especially if the AI spews out a bunch of false positives which will rapidly lower trust in the results.

    Solution looking for a problem.

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