Ocean Infinity, in partnership with the University of Portsmouth, Airborne Robotics and Bentley Telecom is developing an autonomous offshore inspection capability using drone swarms deployed from an uncrewed vessel
The project, ‘Drone Swarm for Unmanned Inspection of Wind Turbines,’ is funded by the Future Flight Challenge programme from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. The £1.67M (US$2.32M) project will culminate in a system demonstration in 2022.
Using 5G and satellite connectivity, the project will see a swarm of drones autonomously inspect wind turbines subsequently removing the need for manual, human inspection.
A 36-m Armada uncrewed robotic vessel will act as the host unit for the drones, facilitating launch and recovery, recharge, data download and transmission to shore via satellite.
Ocean Infinity business development manager Ramsay Lind said, “Not only will this uncrewed solution see a reduced risk to human life but it will also reduce the environmental impact of windfarm inspection. The Armada vessels are a low-emission alternative to conventional vessels, emitting up to 90% fewer greenhouse gases.”
Dr Sarinova Simandjuntak from the University of Portsmouth’s School of Mechanical and Design Engineering said, “Ultimately, we are aiming to develop a system that can detect and monitor defects or damage inside the turbine and the entire structure in a safe and effective way. This will benefit offshore windfarms, reducing downtime and increasing availability and supply.”
Much offshore inspection work on offshore wind turbines is undertaken manually, with windfarm technicians using rope access techniques. When a technician inspects a wind turbine, the blades must be stopped so technicians can be lowered. They test the blade manually, looking for weak spots or damage.
This way of working is not only dangerous, but not particularly efficient – the university believes sensors mounted on drones can inspect an offshore windfarm in a fifth of the time it would usually take.
Manual inspections allow a small number of turbines to be inspected every day. A swarm of drones could potentially cut inspection times for a large windfarm from several weeks to one week and could cut costs by 50%.
During the project, the industry team will address issues and challenges such as drone hover time, flying time, the effect of meteorological conditions on the drones, collision avoidance and the power consumption of onboard equipment, to determine the most efficient and cost-effective drone swarm configuration.
The university team also includes Professor Djamila Ouelhadj, who is leading on the drone swarm operational platform, supported by Dr Xiang Song; Professor Victor Becerra, who is leading on battery health management; and Dr Andy Gibson, who leads on structural integrity analysis.
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