Energy Source & Distribution gets to know Infravision co-founder and CEO Cameron Van Der Berg.
Cameron, please tell us a bit about yourself personally and professionally:
I’m originally from South Africa and moved to Australia with my family around 20 years ago. I’m an engineer with a robotics and automation background. Prior to Infravision, I worked as an engineer in the electric power transmission industry. I’ve always enjoyed working with machines and electricity, which is why I’ve been drawn to solving problems in the energy sector. Currently, I’m based in California, focusing on Infravision’s growth in the US market and building out our team.
What got you interested in drone technology in particular?
If you think about it from first principles, drones are just another machine that has the potential to become a useful tool for civilization. By building upon the significant innovation that’s already happened in the drone industry over the last decade, we can apply drone technology to specific applications and make them useful. The opportunity to make drones a useful tool for the energy transition and the future workforce is what got me interested in drone technology.
Related article: Ausgrid uses drone to untangle wires in world first
When did you and Chris Cox decide to start Infravision, and what was your goal?
Chris and I met in a spearfishing shop in North Queensland. Chris was in the military working with drones and I was studying engineering. We shared a passion for the outdoors and in particular the Great Barrier Reef. We became good mates and spent a lot of time diving and taking it all in. With the help of insights from naturalist and climate advocate David Attenborough, we noticed how climate change was affecting our planet and wanted to contribute to solutions towards preserving our outdoors for future generations. In 2018, we decided to combine our strengths in military drones, robotics and energy, then quit our day jobs and go all-in to start Infravision. Our goal then was the same as it is today—to contribute to the world’s transition to a clean energy future.
Tell us a bit about some of the biggest projects Infravision has been involved in:
Infravision has delivered 15 power grid projects in the past two years, including bushfire repairs to transmission lines in the Snowy Mountains, and several were world-firsts. Our technology is now being adopted in Canada and the US for some of the largest and most challenging transmission connections. To date, the biggest project for Infravision was none other than the development of our core product, the TX System, which uses drones to autonomously string powerline wires. The TX System is safer, faster and cheaper than traditional methods. It’s been a complex project which has taken four years and countless iterations to build.
What’s something most people don’t realise or understand about drones?
Drones aren’t new. They have actually been in the military since the mid-1800s in the form of balloons, torpedoes and aerial targets. Nikola Tesla wrote about unmanned aerial combat vehicles way back in 1915. Like many technologies, drones have since evolved from specific military use cases to commercial applications. Rapid growth in the use of smartphones reduced the prices of microcontrollers, accelerometers and camera sensors, which in turn enabled low-cost drone technology. These days, the opportunity is to capitalise on drones as a low-cost, scalable technology to create modern tools that make people’s lives safer and easier.
Cameron, what are the biggest challenges in the work you do?
There are massive, persistent challenges facing the power grid such as generation uncertainty, network congestion, electrification of our transport sector, and fires. Solving these challenges requires unprecedented grid modernisation to reach our global decarbonisation targets, and we’ll need to invest trillions of dollars in power grid modernisation globally in order to make decarbonisation a reality by 2050.
Related article: Transgrid completes Snowy Mountain bushfire repairs
The problem is, even if we could invest trillions of dollars in modernising the grid, old solutions are simply too slow to prevent 2°C global warming. We need new technology and solutions right now. At Infravision, our biggest challenge is building the required technology quick enough to deploy and make a meaningful difference during this unprecedented transformation to a clean energy power grid.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
I like to get outdoors as much as possible and enjoy surfing, camping and exploring with friends and family.
What’s on the horizon for Infravision?
We’ve recently expanded Infravision to North America on the back of demand for our products in the US and Canada. We’re excited to announce the launch of our newest grid modernisation product later this year. Our focus is to get our technology on market as quickly as possible so that we can continue to contribute to the challenges facing the power grid as the world transitions to clean energy.