Robot crawls across wind turbine in world-first off-shore "blade walk"
As renewable energy grows in popularity around the world, efforts to cut costs and increase its appeal in every way possible continue. A bug-inspired six-legged robot may have a part to play in this, recently demonstrating how it can carry out inspections of offshore wind turbines by carrying out a world-first “blade walk.”
As tall structures erected out in the open air, wind turbines bear the brunt of all kinds of weather conditions, including storms, extreme temperatures and of course, strong winds. Keeping them in working order requires regular inspections to pick up on any damage as soon as it occurs, which sees technicians scale the turbines using rope systems for safety.
A possible alternative that has emerged over the past decade or so is having robots carry out this dangerous work instead. Among the technologies in the pipeline is a six-legged crawling robot called BladeBUG, which is designed to crawl across turbine blades using its vacuum-padded feet. Here, it scans the surface for cracks and deformations, and will eventually resurface the blades itself.
BladeBUG had been put through its paces on vertical training towers and blade sections on dry land, but recently offshore renewable energy company Ore Catapult, which is collaborating on the development of the robot, took it out to sea to see how it fared.
This was not only BladeBUG’s first offshore outing, but the first time a “blade walk” has been completed by a robot on an offshore wind turbine, according to the company. The robot covered 50 m (164 ft) on a vertically positioned blade at ORE Catapult's Levenmouth facility off the coast of Fife in Scotland, perfectly adhering to the surface, navigating its curves and relaying data from scans and a video feed to technicians on the ground. The company says BladeBUG can reduce the cost of inspections by 30 percent, or as much as 50 percent on next-generation turbines.
“It has a clear potential for cutting costs, reducing human offshore deployment and increasing blade lifetimes,” says Chris Cieslak, BladeBUG CEO. “But, we had yet to see how the robot would perform on a real turbine out at sea. I consider BladeBUG’s first walk at Levenmouth as offshore wind’s ‘moon walk’ – a historic milestone in the industry’s evolution. Robotics are here to stay, and they will be an essential ingredient to operating ever-expanding wind farms, deeper-water sites and faster, bigger turbines in the coming years.”
The exercise is part of a research project hoped to demonstrate fully automated inspection and repairs of offshore wind turbines, which would involve autonomous boats, drones and robotic arms to clean and resurface the blades. These other technologies are set to be trialed midway through next year.
The video below provides an overview of the BladeBUG robot.
Source: ORE Catapult