Researchers in the U.K. have developed autonomous drones that can inspect offshore energy sites.
The drones were developed by the Offshore Robotics for the Certification of Assets (ORCA) Hub.
Launched in 2017, the ORCA Hub is a consortium of five universities working with partners from industry sectors such as energy and technology. It’s led by the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, which is in itself a partnership between the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University. Imperial College London, the University of Liverpool and University of Oxford are also involved.
In a statement Monday, Imperial College London’s Mirko Kovac said that drones were currently used to inspect offshore wind turbines, but that such inspections were “remotely controlled by people on-site at the offshore location.”
“Should an area of concern be found, technicians are required to carry out further inspection, maintenance or repair, often at great heights and therefore in high-risk environments,” Kovac, who is director of Imperial’s aerial robotics laboratory, added.
“Our drones are fully autonomous. As well as visually inspecting a turbine for integrity concerns, ours make contact, placing sensors on the infrastructure, or acting as a sensor itself, to assess the health of each asset. Our technology could even deposit repair material for certain types of damage.”
Kovac explained that the autonomous drones could remove the need for humans to carry out dangerous and costly tasks such as abseiling down wind turbines and cut the number of ships going to and from wind farms.
As technology develops, drones are being deployed in a wide range of industries and locations. In the energy sector, Air Control Entech and the Oil & Gas Technology Centre launched three drones last year which can live stream offshore inspections and undertake three-dimensional laser scanning and ultrasonic testing. Led by industry, the center describes itself as a “research and knowledge organisation” and is backed by the U.K. and Scottish governments.
In September 2019, autonomous drone technology was used to deliver diabetes medication to a location off the west coast of Ireland. The contents of the delivery were insulin and glucagon, while the drone also collected a patient’s blood sample.
The National University of Ireland in Galway said the drone’s journey between Connemara Airport and Inis Mór, which is part of the Aran Islands, showed “the possibility of future deliveries of this kind within planned drone corridors.”