When Hurricane Harvey struck the Gulf Coast of Texas earlier this year, there was no mistaking the storm’s destructive power.

But not all impacts of the storm could be seen with the naked eye. Buried underground, natural gas pipelines threatened by Harvey posed a difficult — and potentially deadly — challenge during the recovery. So area utilities turned to a cutting-edge “eye in the sky” developed with support from the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).

The solution: a laser-equipped quadcopter drone that sniffs out leaks of methane, the primary component of natural gas. Developed by a team led by Physical Sciences Inc., the Remote Methane Leak Detector Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (RMLD-UAV) can sweep over large areas reading tiny changes in the laser’s beam to determine the presence and quantity of the invisible gas.

The project team co-developer, Heath Consultants Inc., was invited to test the pioneering device at two sites in Texas that were heavily damaged by the powerful storm — one in Port Aransas and another in Beaumont. The RMLD-UAV was used to survey gas lines, some submerged beneath a river, allowing utilities to ensure the integrity of this important infrastructure rapidly and without putting response crews at risk.