Robots aren’t going to take over the world, but they can definitely make life a lot easier for humans. And that was the aim of BladeBUG, a UK startup that has developed insect-like robots to inspect, maintain, and repair offshore wind turbine blades without the need for rope access.
BladeBUG’s founder and CEO, Chris Cieslak, has a background in wind turbine blade design. His company spotted a gap in the market: How will the offshore wind industry maintain and repair the giant turbine blades once they’re swooshing through the air, high above the water, without requiring wind turbine workers to dangle precariously above the sea? (Who’s going to want to hang off the giant 14 MW Haliade-X Dogger Bank turbine blades? Yikes.) Not only does the robot make it safer for rope access technicians; it also saves money for the wind turbine companies, as it’s expensive to have humans climb out onto turbine blades.
So the now seven-person, London-based startup invented BladeBUG, a six-legged robot with suction cups on its feet that can change shape as it crawls along wind turbine blades. The robot has cameras so the operator can see what’s going on, and it’s steered by a gaming controller from the top of the turbine. It uses sensors to find damage or anything hindering the wind turbines’s efficiency. It can even make small repairs.
And for an extra dose of cool, drones can carry the BladeBUG robots to the offshore wind farms.
The young company was funded by the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, a UK government industrial innovation program. As a result, BladeBUG was able to form a partnership with the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, the UK’s leading technology innovation center for offshore wind, wave, and tidal energy.
In October 2020, the BladeBUG robot successfully walked on an offshore wind turbine in Scotland (pictured above left).The BladeBUG will undergo commercial trials in 2021 and is expected to go to market in 2022. Here’s a short video about these little robots that are set to play a big part in offshore wind growth:
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