Researchers Develop Autonomous Drone For Wind Farm Inspections

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New technology reduces need to ferry human technicians out to offshore wind farms, potentially resulting in significant cost savings for renewable energy industry

A consortium of researchers has developed fully autonomous drones capable of inspecting offshore wind farms for damage and even carrying out repairs.

The devices are intended to reduce the necessity of technicians having to abseil down turbines to inspect and repair damage.

Drones are currently used to carry out visual inspections of offshore wind turbines, but these are remotely controlled by humans located at the off-shore location, according to Dr Mirko Kovac, director of the aerial robotics laboratory at Imperial College London.

Technicians are then required to directly carry out any further inspection, maintenance or repair, often at great heights and in high-risk environments, he said.

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Artificial intelligence

The new drones are fully autonomous, carrying out visual inspections but also capable of placing sensors on the infrastructure or acting as a sensor themselves.

The drones can also deposit repair material for certain types of damage, Kovac said.

“This has far-reaching applications including removing the need for humans to abseil down the side of turbines which can be both dangerous and expensive,” he said.

The fact that the drones operate without a human controlling them means humans do not have to be ferried to and from the off-shore site, potentially reducing the number of vessels travelling to and from wind farms, Kovac added.

Robotics hub

The technology was developed by the Offshore Robotics for the Certification of Assets (Orca) hub, a consortium of five universities led by the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, which is itself a partnership between Edinburgh University and Heriot-Watt University.

The consortium includes Imperial College London as well as Oxford University and Liverpool University, which work with more than 30 industry partners to develop the use of robots in the renewable energy sector.

The hub says it is the largest academic centre of its kind in the world.

It is part of the UK government’s £93 million research and development effort into robotics and AI for extreme environments.

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