BladeBUG makes robotic ‘blade walk’ on operational wind turbine

BladeBUG and the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult have announced the UK’s first blade walk by a robot on an offshore wind turbine. 

Over two days in mid-October, the six-legged inspect-and-repair robot repeatedly scaled blades at ORE Catapult’s 7MW Levenmouth Demonstration turbine off the coast of Fife. 

The robot is said to represent a 30 per cent cost reduction based on lifetime blade maintenance conducted by rope-access technicians. ORE Catapult have predicted the cost savings to reach up to 50 per cent for next generation turbines. These costs have traditionally been a primary area of concern for offshore operators, as sea conditions and faster tip speeds can lead to significant blade damage over time. 

Robot team set sail for offshore wind farm inspection

Currently being developed under a £1m collaboration project part funded by Innovate UK, the BladeBUG robot aims to be capable of inspecting blade surfaces for emergent cracks and imperfections by the project’s end next year, transmitting data on their condition back to shore and resurfacing the blades. 

BladeBUG had previously demonstrated its crawler robot’s abilities on blade sections and the vertical training tower at ORE Catapult’s National Renewable Energy Centre in Blyth. The blade walk has now proven that the robot can conduct lengthy deployments in real-world conditions. 

During the demonstration, the robot walked 50m on a vertically positioned blade on the Levenmouth turbine (a length of 84m with the tip reaching 195m above the sea when upright). Capabilities demonstrated during the trial were the ‘perfect’ adherence of its vacuum-packed feet to blade surfaces in offshore conditions, the ability to navigate the varying curvature of blade surfaces in a variety of scenarios, and transmission of data from blade scans and live video feed to technicians, demonstrating the crawler robot’s navigational abilities and placement of feet on changing surfaces.  

(Image: BladeBUG)

Describing BladeBUG’s technology as a ‘potential game-changer’, ORE Catapult’s operational performance director, Chris Hill, said: “I consider BladeBUG’s first walk at Levenmouth as offshore wind’s ‘moon walk’ – a historic milestone in the industry’s evolution. Robotics are here to stay, and they will be an essential ingredient to operating ever-expanding wind farms, deeper-water sites and faster, bigger turbines in the coming years.” 

BladeBUG CEO Chris Cieslak added: “In little over a year we have gone from designing and testing our first prototype, to taking our first tentative steps with our Mark I robot, to now seeing the BladeBUG robot walk along the blade of an actual offshore wind turbine. We cannot wait to perform further trials and demonstrate the capabilities further offshore.” 

The robot is also a key component of the £4.2m MIMRee project which aims to demonstrate a fully autonomous inspection and repair mission to an offshore wind farm. BladeBUG will work in collaboration with an autonomous vessel and a team of drones, using a robotic arm to clean and resurface damaged blades, with the final MIMRee system technology trials set to take place in mid-2021.