Business & Information Systems Engineering

Document Type

Research Paper


With the ever-increasing societal dependence on electricity, one of the critical tasks in power supply is maintaining the power line infrastructure. In the process of making informed, cost-effective, and timely decisions, maintenance engineers must rely on human-created, heterogeneous, structured, and also largely unstructured information. The maturing research on vision-based power line inspection driven by advancements in deep learning offers first possibilities to move towards more holistic, automated, and safe decision-making. However, (current) research focuses solely on the extraction of information rather than its implementation in decision-making processes. The paper addresses this shortcoming by designing, instantiating, and evaluating a holistic deep-learning-enabled image-based decision support system artifact for power line maintenance at a German distribution system operator in southern Germany. Following the design science research paradigm, two main components of the artifact are designed: A deep-learning-based model component responsible for automatic fault detection of power line parts as well as a user-oriented interface responsible for presenting the captured information in a way that enables more informed decisions. As a basis for both components, preliminary design requirements are derived from literature and the application field. Drawing on justificatory knowledge from deep learning as well as decision support systems, tentative design principles are derived. Based on these design principles, a prototype of the artifact is implemented that allows for rigorous evaluation of the design knowledge in multiple evaluation episodes, covering different angles. Through a technical experiment the technical novelty of the artifact’s capability to capture selected faults (regarding insulators and safety pins) in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)-captured image data (model component) is validated. Subsequent interviews, surveys, and workshops in a natural environment confirm the usefulness of the model as well as the user interface component. The evaluation provides evidence that (1) the image processing approach manages to address the gap of power line component inspection and (2) that the proposed holistic design knowledge for image-based decision support systems enables more informed decision-making. The paper therefore contributes to research and practice in three ways. First, the technical feasibility to detect certain maintenance-intensive parts of power lines with the help of unique UAV image data is shown. Second, the distribution system operators’ specific problem is solved by supporting decisions in maintenance with the proposed image-based decision support system. Third, precise design knowledge for image-based decision support systems is formulated that can inform future system designs of a similar nature.