In the last two decades, Exelon has become America’s largest operator of nuclear power plants, its largest regulated utility, and its largest electric company by revenue. Exelon operates in 48 states, in the District of Columbia, and in Canada. It employs 34,000 people and generates revenues of more than $33 billion annually.
Yet in 2010, Exelon faced a business curveball—an unexpected natural gas boom. This posed a very real threat to a company that relied on nuclear power to make up 60% of its energy. With a new outside force throwing their business off-balance, the company could have doubled-down on routine and shied away from any risky changes. Instead, Exelon leadership chose to invest in a corporate innovation initiative to ignite a growth revolution and transform the traditional utility corporation into an energy company that is truly leading the way. Recognizing Bionic’s extensive innovation experience, Exelon brought Bionic on to support its new direction.
The team spent six months looking into wind turbine inspection and solar farms, but the competition was fierce. So they returned to focus upon Exelon’s proprietary gifts: experience with drone asset inspection, knowledge of traditional energy assets, a capability to automate drone flight scripts, and its brand, scale, and reputation as a leading electric utility. If they could combine these gifts, they could strike gold.
The team had learned that flight regulations for drones are toughest in suburban and urban areas, which are densely populated and closer to airports with controlled airspace. However, in rural areas, if an owner of a privately-held asset gives a company permission to inspect assets with drones, the flight regulations are far less strict.
The AeroLabs team concluded that these problems were real and acute and that they could deliver a better solution than was currently in-market, but it needed to validate these hypotheses. The team attended a trade show that was also attended by rural co-ops, where, even without a demo, an incorporated business, or clear evidence their proposed solution would work, AeroLabs collected almost 100 business cards from excited co-op representatives at the show.
To pilot its solution, AeroLabs signed up two of the Co-ops from the conference: one in North Carolina, and one in Indiana.