Autonomous wind farm inspection robots in development

autonomous wind farm inspection
© iStock/onfilm

A new project aimed at developing robots which can conduct autonomous wind farm inspection and repair offshore has launched in the UK.

The £4m (€4.52m) Multi-Platform Inspection, Maintenance and Repair in Extreme Environments (MIMRee) project, funded by Innovate UK, will see eight major partners from both academia and industry work together to develop the new system, which aims to combine autonomous vessels, crawling robots and aerial vehicles to conduct unmanned inspections of offshore wind turbines. The scheme is projected to take two years until completion. The partners in the project are:

  • Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, the UK’s offshore renewable energy innovation centre;
  • Maritime inspection and support firm Plant Integrity Ltd;
  • French electrical systems provider Thales;
  • Flexible electronics company Wootzano Ltd;
  • The University of Bristol;
  • The University of Manchester;
  • Royal Holloway, The University of London; and
  • The Royal College of Art.

Inspections and necessary repairs of wind turbines off the UK’s coast are currently carried out by a crew of technicians, who face considerable safety risks in the course of their work due to the risks posed by extreme conditions, weather events and the height of the turbines. The process is doubly costly as a result of lost energy production during the period of downtime which must occur so maintenance activity can be carried out; and the daily expense incurred by crew transfer vessels.

Martin Bourton, Principal Project Leader at Plant Integrity, said: “The moment when an autonomous mother ship and robotic crew sail in UK waters will be a world first – and likely a game-changer for the offshore, oil and gas and defence industries too. Some of the technologies are more fully developed, such as the autonomous vessel, but robotics is at a more experimental stage. While the focus is on solving vital problems for the offshore wind industry, we’d expect to see a lot more insights and applications emerging as we test different combinations of mechanics, sensors and robotic intelligence.”

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