An underwater drone has carried out what is thought to be the first autonomous inspection of an offshore wind farm’s foundations.
EDF’s remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) visually inspected the foundations of three turbines at the Blyth wind farm off Northumberland, north-east England, within four days.
Images it recorded will be used to create 3D reconstructions of the foundations to monitor the build-up of underwater organisms on them.
The drone was equipped and operated by the Orca Hub at the National Robotarium, a group of researchers from the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University in Scotland.
Maxime Duchet, offshore wind research engineer at EDF, said: “These trials have showcased the ability of autonomous inspection drones to collect high-quality images of offshore turbine technology.
“These images, and the modelling they enable, will greatly enhance our ability to carry out operations and maintenance activities on-site.”
Dr Sen Wang, lead of Robotics and Autonomous Systems at the National Robotarium, said the trial showed how underwater robots could reduce the risks to humans.
“We can obtain high-quality videos and build an extremely accurate 3D model of the turbine foundations, providing rich information in a more efficient manner for companies working in this sector,” Dr Wang said.
Analysts say airborne drones will play an increasingly large part in cutting the estimated $8 billion and rising annual cost of wind farm maintenance.
Research by US-based Levitate Capital, which invests in drones and other new transport technology, said that there was a market for about 21,000 drones to inspect the 400,000-plus wind turbines worldwide.