Robotics/unmanned systems

Underwater Drone Conducts First Autonomous Inspection of Wind Farm Foundations

Researchers from the Offshore Robotics for Certification of Assets Hub teamed with EDF Renewables to use a modified remotely operated vehicle to conduct what they say is the first autonomous underwater inspection of wind farm foundations.


Researchers from the Offshore Robotics for Certification of Assets (ORCA) Hub have partnered with energy company EDF Renewables to deploy a customized remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to conduct what researchers say is the first autonomous wind farm foundation inspection of the EDF’s Blyth Offshore Wind Farm.

The ROV, equipped and operated by researchers from the ORCA Hub, a strategic project within the National Robotarium and funded by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, was modified to include robotic technologies for autonomous inspections and conducted visual inspections of the gravity-based foundations of three offshore turbines over the course of 4 days.

“This trial demonstrates the enormous potential for underwater robots to autonomously carry out inspection and maintenance of offshore wind turbines, reducing the need and the associated risks of putting personnel into challenging and hazardous environments,” said Sen Wang, lead of robotics and autonomous systems at the National Robotarium.

The inspections were undertaken as part of a partnership between EDF and the ORCA Hub to investigate a wide range of applications for drone technology to assess offshore wind turbines. The trials demonstrated the drone’s ability to work autonomously at the site as it recorded videos to assess the exterior condition of turbine foundations and cables.

The drone was also used to create a 3D models of parts of the underwater assets, which will be used to monitor biofouling, the accumulation of microorganisms, plants, and algae on the foundations.

“By equipping the ROV with sensors and robot autonomy software developed by the ORCA Hub, 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,” Wang said.

“Further tests are needed to estimate the time required to inspect all of the turbine foundations and to demonstrate the full potential of marine robotic technology,” said Paul Clarke, portfolio manager for offshore wind at EDF Renewables. “However, it is clear from these initial results that the technology can ensure safer and faster operations and a reduced carbon footprint.”