Alan Tovey writes on The Telegraph website about six-legged robotic “bugs” being used to repair offshore wind farms.
Flying robot bugs deployed to fix wind farms
Six-legged robotic “bugs” could soon be repairing offshore wind farms, putting an end to humans doing risky maintenance and potentially lowering energy bills in the process.
Engineers have proven the concept for an autonomous vessel kitted out with technology that can scan blades for defects from a distance.
This happens while the blades are still moving, with their tips hitting speeds of 200mph.
If a crack is found, the turbine is stopped and the vessel – developed by defence company Thales – deploys a drone that lands a robotic bug on the wind turbine.
This small “bug” robot crawls along the blade like an insect, feeling for hairline cracks using an artificial skin developed using bio-nanotechnology.
If a problem is found, it deploys a repair module that can clean and recoat damaged blades to make them serviceable.
The £4m project, called “MIMRee”, was funded by Innovate UK and led by the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult. It brought together companies including start-up BladeBug, robotics businesses Wootzano and Perceptual, along with academics from the Bristol and Manchester universities and the Royal College of Art’s robotic laboratory.
It borrows technology perfected in nuclear submarines’ periscopes.
The various parts of the project have now been tested and are ready to move into deployment.
The catapult believes the system could be operated remotely by humans within a decade and completely autonomously by 2050.
Removing humans from hazardous offshore repairs could reduce the cost of energy from the windfarms by 10pc, the catapult believes.
Ben George, spokesman for the catapult, said: “This is not just a way to reduce costs, it is essential if offshore wind is to achieve the expansion needed for net zero.
“Conditions at sea make human-only missions subject to safety risks, delays, cancellations and turbine downtime. This will not be feasible running the super-sized offshore power stations of tomorrow in deep water hundreds of miles offshore.”
Sara Bernardini, professor of artificial intelligence at Royal Holloway University of London, applied her experience from Nasa space programmes to the project to get robots and humans to work together to keep windfarms operating.
She said: “Space is a good example of humans working with robots. Current Mars missions use a team of robots, and astronauts are deployed selectively where human ingenuity is needed and risk to life is lowest. Future offshore work will be about humans in the control room, developing and managing the robots.”