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This drone could patch up offshore wind turbines without human control

Professional Engineering

The autonomous drone could repair offshore wind turbines (Credit: Orca Hub)
The autonomous drone could repair offshore wind turbines (Credit: Orca Hub)

An autonomous drone can inspect and place sensors on offshore turbines – and could even repair damage, keeping people out of the dangerous environment.

The flying robot was demonstrated by the Orca Hub, a multi-million pound consortium of five universities and 35 ‘industrial and innovation’ partners.

Led by Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh’s Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, the Hub showcased 16 autonomous and semi-autonomous robotic technologies at the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult in Blyth, near Newcastle.

Designed to boost safety, improve efficiency and support the environmental objectives of offshore energy infrastructure, the technology included the autonomous drone from Dr Mirko Kovac at Imperial College London.

“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. Our technology could even deposit repair material for certain types of damage,” said Dr Kovac.

“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. Our drones could also reduce the number of vessels travelling to and from windfarms, providing the industry with both cost and environmental benefits.”

The device is not the only drone aimed at offshore wind-turbine maintenance and repair. One system from the £4m Mimree (Multi-Platform Inspection, Maintenance and Repair in Extreme Environments) project, for example, combines drone inspection with the six-legged BladeBug robot, which is designed to crawl across turbine blades and use an electronic ‘skin’ to identify faults.

Other Orca Hub demonstrations included Limpet, a “cost-effective, integrated multi-sensing device designed for deployment in large collectives”. Each one includes nine sensing devices and four methods of communication, and can be placed either underwater or higher up on wind turbines.

The demonstrated research is “of huge interest” to EDF, said the company’s senior research engineer.

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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