A team of scientists, led by two Scottish universities, have created fully autonomous drones that can inspect wind farms for damage.
It is hoped that using the drones will mean technicians no longer have to undergo the “dangerous and expensive” process of abseiling down turbines to inspect the integrity of wind turbines and conduct repairs.
Dr Mirko Kovac, director of the aerial robotics laboratory at Imperial College London, which has been involved in the work, said: “Drones are currently used to visually inspect offshore wind turbines, but these inspections are remotely controlled by people on-site at the offshore location.
“Should an area of concern be found, technicians are required to carry out further inspection, maintenance or repair, often at great heights and, therefore, in high-risk environments.
“Our drones are fully autonomous. As well as visually inspecting a turbine for integrity concerns, ours make contact, placing sensors on the infrastructure, or acting as a sensor itself, to assess the health of each asset.”
The technology could even deposit repair material for certain types of damage, he added.
“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,” Kovac explained.
“Our drones could also reduce the number of vessels travelling to and from wind farms, providing the industry with both cost and environmental benefits.”
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, a partnership between Heriot-Watt University and Edinburgh University.
The consortium unveiled the drones at a demo day at the National Renewable Energy Centre in Blyth, Northumberland, along with 15 other autonomous and semi-autonomous robots for the inspection, maintenance and decommissioning of offshore energy infrastructure.
Other new technology included autonomous legged robot mapping and reactive motion planning with the consortium’s ANYmal quadruped. Also on show was Limpet, a wireless, cost-effective, integrated multi-sensing device that replaces the need for multiple sensors to be used for wind turbine integrity monitoring.
Professor David Lane, from Heriot-Watt University and Orca Hub director, said: “The Orca Hub is providing game-changing, remote solutions that can be easily integrated into existing and future assets and sensors for both the renewables sector and traditional industries like oil and gas extraction.”