Self-flying drones collect data on wind turbine blades

Self-flying drones collect data on wind turbine blades

An automated drone inspects a wind turbine blade for damage. Photo courtesy of SkySpecs

Collecting wind farm data can be tricky.

Climbing up to wind turbine blades to inspect them for damage can be dangerous and time-consuming. Once up there, some inspectors rely only on a cell phone camera to snap pictures of any problems. The inspection process of an entire field can take months.

Advancements in drone technology are turning the cumbersome maintenance effort into a safer and more streamlined data collection process, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Enter SkySpecs.

The Ann Arbor, Mich.-based startup has developed an automated drone inspection system for the wind industry, cutting inspection time to minutes.

Hands-free flying

SkySpecs entered the wind industry three years ago after first considering civil infrastructure inspection. Despite the marked excitement that drones received early on, there were also significant concerns about their commercial utility.  

SkySpecs 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.

Flying fast

Historically, inspections have been time consuming and expensive. While preventative maintenance has become a standard practice (rather than reactively waiting for problems to arise before fixing them), effective proactive maintenance requires large amounts of data.

Today, 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.

Validating through national labs

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.

SkySpecs is working with Sandia National Laboratories to validate its damage detection algorithms to meet industry standards. They’ll also work together on examining future inspection methods beyond just ‘visual inspection.’ By incorporating more advanced inspection technologies, they will improve the value of the drone inspection.

The partnership was made possible through a $254,000 Energy Department Small Business Vouchers (SBV) pilot award in 2016. The pilot gives U.S. small businesses like SkySpecs the resources it needs to access facilities and researchers at the national labs. With this support, small companies can advance their technologies faster so that the market can use their products sooner.

SkySpecs will continue working with Sandia through fall 2017, thanks to voucher funding. SBV is funded through the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and has helped 76 cleantech small businesses partner with 12 national labs. 

Topics: Consulting - Green & Sustainable Strategies and Solutions, Engineering Firms, Maintenance, Sustainable Communities, Urban Planning and Design, Wind Power

Companies: U.S. Department of Energy

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