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At least every few years, utility companies release squadrons of drones into the skies to digitally photograph hard-to-reach equipment and check for wear and tear. Around the world, there are 3 million miles of high-voltage transmission lines – enough to go from the moon and back half-a-dozen times – and as much as 64 million miles of local transmission lines; that represents a lot of images, and even more data.

But what happens to this rich trove of visual information – or rather, what doesn’t happen – may surprise you.

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