The world’s first blade walk by a robot

The UK has achieved the world’s first blade walk by a robot on an offshore wind turbine, thanks to BladeBUG and the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult. 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.

BladeBUG represents a 30 per cent cost reduction on current blade inspection techniques, which are conducted by rope-access technicians, with a measurable knock-on effect to the levelised cost of energy[1]. For next generation turbines, ORE Catapult predicts the cost savings could reach as much as 50 per cent.  These costs have traditionally been one of the primary areas of concern for offshore operators, as sea conditions and faster tip speeds can lead to significant blade damage over time.

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

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

During the demonstration, the robot walked 50 metres on a vertically positioned blade on the Levenmouth turbine (a length of 84 metres with the tip reaching 195 metres above the sea when upright).

perform further trials and demonstrate the capabilities further offshore.”

The robot is also a key component of the £4.2 million MIMRee project which will demonstrate a fully autonomous inspection and repair mission to an offshore wind farm.

During these trials, BladeBUG will work  in collaboration with an autonomous vessel and teams of drones, using a robotic arm to clean and resurface damaged blades. The final MIMRee system technology trials are set to take place in mid-2021.