Autonomous drones ‘offer wind sector cost, environmental and safety benefits’

The ORCA Hub says its drones can not only survey infrastructure but also physically interact with energy assets

The Big Zero report

Fully-autonomous drones can provide the offshore wind sector with a range of cost, environmental and safety benefits.

That’s the verdict from the ORCA Hub, a consortium of five universities and 35 industrial and innovation partners – it has conducted multimillion-pound research to advance robotics and AI technologies for the inspection, repair, maintenance and certification of offshore energy infrastructure.

Led by the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics and including Imperial College London, the University of Oxford and the University of Liverpool, the hub has showcased 16 autonomous and semi-autonomous robotic solutions at ORE Catapult in Blyth, near Newcastle.

Dr Mirko Kovac, Director of the Aerial Robotics Laboratory at Imperial College London, explained: “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.”

The hub said as well as inspecting turbines for integrity concerns, its drones can also make physical contact to place sensors on the infrastructure assets and deposit repair material for certain types of damage.

It notes drones can remove the need for workers to climb and abseil on turbines, which can prove both dangerous and expensive, as well as save money and emissions by reducing the number of vessels having to travel to wind farms.

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