Drones, from a niche hobby have now become essential tools for companies operating in the field of delivery or industrial inspection. However, companies are still hesitant about the use of drones and have opted to wait to see how companies operating in this bussiness are evolving, which technologies they will use and which leading providers will emerge in the market.
Wind turbine operations and maintenance is one industry that is well-positioned to benefit in the near term from drone use in their operations. In fact, wind turbines are getting bigger and bigger and this implies increased difficulties in inspecting them, which is usually done with cranes or specialized people, checking both the blades and the overall structure. Maintenance and inspection are therefore expensive, long and risky for those who carry it.
The solution to this can be to let autonomous drones do the work.
Experimental trials, curated by the University of Technology in Lulea, took place in the north of Sweden. In the middle of the woods an outdoor laboratory was set up. Protagonists are one of Skellefteå kraft wind turbines and, of course, the drone. The drone’s task was to inspect the wind turbine and reconstruct a 3D model of it in order to detect faults and cracks. To perform this task outside is extremely more challenging compared to doing it indoors in a lab. Outside there are no reference points for the drone and the tricky part is to make the drone understand where it is.
“We managed to fly autonomous with great autonomy and precision in localization and this was an extremely successful and big step for us. The outcome makes our research group unique in Europe,” says George Nikolakopoulos, professor at the University of Technology.
Across the globe, SkySpecs, a Michigan-based startup company, has developed an automated drone inspection system for the wind industry.
The drones fly autonomously during the inspection and use an advanced damage identification system to capture high-quality images, detect wind turbine cracks and collect valuable data.
SkySpecs inspections require less than 15 minutes and drones can lconduct as many as 17 inspections in one day.
SkySpecs inspections take less than 15 minutes – and they can conduct as many as 17 inspections in one day. That’s currently faster than any other inspection company in the industry.
The Global Wind Energy Council estimated that 314,000 individual wind turbines operated around the world at the end of 2015. With this volume, the demand for drone inspections could rise dramatically.