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Autonomous boats carrying maintenance drones lined up for offshore wind repairs


Autonomous boats transporting self-piloting drones are being lined up to repair offshore wind farms. 

A research project aimed at developing robot boats to repair offshore wind farms has received £4.2M from Innovate UK.

The project seeks to develop autonomous ships that transport self-piloting drones, which will in turn carry swarms of six-legged robots known as Bladebugs.

The project’s researchers said that the technology could save the average wind farm around £26M in repair costs over its lifetime.

Engineers want to use Thales’ Halcyon autonomous boats as well as drones which are able to survey damage to wind turbines and lift crawling robots onto the turbine’s blades.

Eight industry and academic partners will work together to develop the system over two years

British firm Plant Integrity will lead the group. Meanwhile, engineering expertise and access to facilities to test the system will be provided by Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) and renewables  research and development centre Catapult.

Plant Integrity principal project leader Martin Bourton added: “Some of the technologies are more fully-developed, such as the autonomous vessel, but robotics is at a more experimental stage.

“While the focus is on solving vital problems for the offshore wind industry, we’d expect to see a lot more insights and applications emerging as we test different combinations of mechanics, sensors and robotic intelligence.”

ORE Catapult operational performance director Chris Hill added: “Reducing the use of crew transfer vessels is an imperative for the offshore wind industry, as it will positively impact health and safety, help push down cost and combine the UK’s competitive advantage in operating offshore renewable energy plant with its world-leading robotics sector.”

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