Bremen-based researchers are developing a drone that can autonomously inspect wind turbines. Its USP is its ability to get ‘hands on’. Benjamin Staar and Dimitri Denhof love a challenge. That is the only conclusion you can come to when you consider their InspectionCopter project. The two scientists at the BIBA Bremen Institute for Production and Logistics have set themselves ambitious goals for the next two years. Working with their partners in robotics and 3D printing, they are aiming to develop a robot drone that not only autonomously examines wind turbines for damage, but also performs a lightning protection and drainage test at the same time.
Staar is a neurobiologist and Denhof is a systems engineer, and both work in the field of deep learning. They are motivated by the opportunity to measure their algorithms against reality and test them on real-world problems. “Things that our brain can handle effortlessly, such as identifying a defect in a wind turbine, are not so easy to replicate with artificial intelligence,” says Denhof.
Strategic partners across Germany
InspectionCopter is a joint research project of BIBA, Bremen-based robotic arm specialists AKON, drone manufacturer Airstage and the Fraunhofer Institute for Additive Production Technologies (IAPT). This project brings many pioneering technologies together, such as AI, robotics, 3D printing and drones. That is what makes it so exciting for the two scientists. “Using drones to inspect wind farms is already commonplace. We are building a far more complex and autonomous system – there’s nothing like it on the market,” says Staar.
Recognise and scan
What will InspectionCopter be able to do when it is complete? Its work is determined by legal requirements: rotor blades must be inspected regularly, and lightning protection systems every two years, for example. These checks are currently carried out by technicians who have to climb the towers, which is an expensive and time-consuming process during which the turbine is offline for hours and not earning any money.
The drone is designed to do this autonomously. It is equipped to check the blades for damage and to inspect the lightning protection system and the drainage holes.