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Underwater drone carries out first-ever offshore wind farm inspection

EDF used an underwater drone at the Blyth offshore wind farm (EDF)
EDF used an underwater drone at the Blyth offshore wind farm (EDF)

A unique underwater drone has carried out what is thought to be the first-ever autonomous inspection of an offshore wind farm’s foundations.

EDF’s remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) was able to visually inspect the foundations of three turbines at the Blyth wind farm off Northumberland within four days.

Images it recorded will be used to create 3D reconstructions of the foundations in order to monitor the build-up of underwater organisms on the foundations.

The drone was equipped and operated by the Orca Hub at the National Robotarium, a group of researchers from Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt Universities.

The drone captured underwater images (EDF)

Maxime Duchet, offshore wind research engineer at EDF, said: “These trials have showcased the ability of autonomous inspection drones to collect high-quality images of offshore turbine technology.

“These images, and the modelling they enable, will greatly enhance our ability to carry out operations and maintenance activities on-site.

“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.

“However it is clear from these initial results that the technology can ensure safer and faster operations and a reduced carbon footprint.”

Dr Sen Wang, lead of Robotics and Autonomous Systems at the National Robotarium, said: “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.

“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.”