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Tech company deploys unexpected helpers to inspect wind turbines, saving technicians from danger — here’s how it works

They scan every inch of a turbine’s blades.

They scan every inch of a turbine’s blades.

Photo Credit: iStock

Two Dutch companies are leveraging their expertise to develop high-flying wind turbine tenders that will keep humans from needing to scale the massive machines. 

TNO is combining its artificial intelligence and digital imaging tech with SpectX’s drone inspection units, achieving impressive results. 

“It is a prime example of how human innovation and AI-driven technology can work together on maximizing performance and sustainability,” TNO officials said in a statement on the tech quoted by Euronews Green. 

The drones work by flying in pairs, scanning “every inch” of a turbine’s blades with radiography and Lidar. The images are then run through AI coding, creating what the company calls a “digital twin” of the blades, per Euronews. And, like most digital tech these days, it uses the cloud to handle the data and an app to control the drones. 

A video clip shared by SpectX shows one drone on each side of a turbine blade analyzing a “region of interest” —  what could be a crack or failure. 

While drones are already used to monitor turbines, this system provides a next-level look at them. It’s also a safer option for offshore wind farms and for the extremely tall turbines being built, some of which are 70 stories high. 

A TNO-provided example of a drone exam report shows a type of failure that could be caught: a crack and air void. The report states that the problem might be a manufacturing defect. This level of analysis is all completed with human feet safely on the ground. 

“It knows the environmental loads the blade is subjected to, such as wind gusts and other natural forces,” TNO experts said about the tech on the company website. 

Wind power is a burgeoning industry, with more than 341,000 turbines globally, according to the Global Wind Energy Council. A bar graph from data collector Statista looks like a staircase, with the share of worldwide electricity produced by wind power increasing each year since 2010. 

In fact, wind produced 7.3% of the planet’s electricity in 2022. That’s up from 6.6% the prior year, per Statista. 

It’s becoming an increasingly important part of the renewable energy mix that’s providing a cleaner way to power our homes, businesses, and communities. 

Now, the Netherlands’ drones are about ready for wider deployment to make sure the wind-based energy makers are operating safely. Euronews reported that initial trials were successful, and pilot field inspections are on the docket. 

“This modern approach can prove to be cost effective and more robust than the current industry standard inspection methods,” SpectX’s team states online. 

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