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Fully autonomous inspect-and-repair missions to offshore wind farms

MIMRee (Multi-Platform Inspection, Maintenance and Repair in Extreme Environments) is a two-year project funded by Innovate UK, which seeks to transform offshore wind operations. It will demonstrate how autonomous motherships and robotic crews are capable of planning and executing inspection and repair missions without the need for an offshore human presence.

Operations at offshore wind turbines are currently performed by technicians suspended from turbine nacelles by ropes. Conditions at sea bring a multitude of risks – lightning strikes, squalls and gales, as well as wave heights that can make transfer from vessel to platform fraught with danger. Turbines can sit inactive for days while crews wait for safe weather windows to access them before scaling their towers and blade lengths.

The MIMRee system will deploy inspection drones and repair robots from an unmanned mothership. NASA-inspired mission planning software will enable the system to plan missions by itself, as well as providing a human-machine interface for technicians working onshore. Missions will be possible under most weather conditions, and crucially the vessel will be capable of inspecting moving blades for defects, minimising downtime.

Future impacts

The Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult estimates that the MIMRee system will reduce the lifetime cost of operating and maintaining an offshore wind farm by £26 million.

Introducing this network of new technologies to the sector also brings opportunities for the human workforce. As the robotics cope with conditions offshore, technicians can be deployed in safer, highly-skilled roles onshore. These jobs of the future will bring in advanced data processing, embedded programming and robotics engineering skills, with workers moving to supervisory, interventional and advisory roles in operations.