Robots could help run offshore wind farm repairs

A UK demonstration project to allow inspection drones and ‘six-legged blade crawlers with robotic arms’ to fix offshore wind turbines has cleared major milestones, but challenges remain.

BladeBUG's robot recently demonstrated its walking abilities on a variety of blade surfaces at ORE Catapult’s National Renewable Energy Centre

ORE Catapult announced that the multi-platform inspection, maintenance and repair project in extreme environments project (Mimree) will likely be ready for 2022. 

By integrating autonomous boats within the project it is estimated that autonomous offshore wind inspection and repair solutions could save the "average" wind farm about £26 million (€28.7 million) over the course of its lifetime.

According to ORE Catapult, the project has clocked several mini-victories related to drone software integrations, detecting blade defects in different levels of light and developing an “electronic skin” to help the robot crawler “feel the condition” of the blades and walk across it in extreme environments.

However, a fully autonomous system is not yet a reality, an ORE Catapult spokesman told Windpower Monthly. More research is needed to work out how the crawler will be deployed and the mechanism for retrieving it, a project under development by the University of Manchester. 

The launching of unmanned drones from surface vessels at sea to demonstrate an end-to-end system also needs work. To date this has not been proven, even in an artificial environment.

Martin Bourton, the project lead at project management firm Plant Integrity and a project partner said: “The project is developing a variety of spin-off technologies: the ability to scan a working turbine, without stopping it for days while it is inspected is just one with a very obvious benefit to industry.”