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Published on September 6th, 2018 | by Jake Richardson

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Drones & AI Used To Quickly Inspect Wind Turbines

September 6th, 2018 by  


The French drone software startup Sterblue’s technology employs drones and AI to conduct inspections of industrial infrastructure like power lines, power towers and wind turbines. Drones can be programmed to get up close to wind turbines and record high-quality images in relatively little time. The images are then analyzed for defects or potential problems using AI. Vincent Lecrubier, Co-founder of Sterblue, answered some questions for CleanTechnica about the technology.

How did you hatch the idea to use drones and AI to monitor industrial infrastructure?

The 3 co-founders of Sterblue are aerospace engineers, Vincent Lecrubier and Nicolas Draber were founding members of the student drone club at their university in 2006 and Geoffrey Vancassel has also been a long time drone enthusiast. In 2015, we were working at Airbus and we shared the feeling that drones were still not really in proper industrial use, 10 years after we started being interested in them. This is when we decided to try and make this happen, using our complementary skills in structural engineering, aerospace operations and computer science. We believe green tech is the future so we decided right away to focus on renewable energies first.

What kind of drones do you use?

Our software is compatible with any off-the-shelf DJI drones. We can be compatible with other drone brands as well, but right now this manufacturer really provides the best drones on the market. Depending on the required inspection quality, we can use the whole DJI range, from the Mavic Pro to the Matrice 210, including the Phantom 4.

Do you have technicians to operate the drones onsite to collect the video data, or can a company use their own employees to launch a drone which is automatically directed by your technology?

A company can use our software on their own drones, operated by their own employees, to inspect their assets automatically, from drone flight to report generation. Our business model is pay-per-inspection, so any company can use our solution, no strings attached. Of course energy companies that do not own drones can also use our solution, going through drone service providers.

How many wind turbines have you surveyed so far?

We launched our product for wind turbines 3 months ago and we already inspected around 100 wind turbines automatically!

What kind of problems do wind turbines have that you can identify?

We can identify all classes of anomalies on wind turbines blades: small cracks, coating and paint defects, thunder strikes, shape defects, impacts, etc.

How often does a wind turbine need to be surveyed to make sure it is operating safely and is not going to break down?

Wind turbines are usually inspected every year. Inspection costs are high, especially if you include the cost of downtime. Sterblue is both cheaper and faster than other traditional solutions, so we believe we could allow to increase the frequency of wind turbines inspections. This would allow better performance of turbines, lower noise and more safety, both for maintenance technicians and the general public, as wind turbines still are dangerous pieces of equipment, and we want to help make them safer.

How many drones are operating in your fleet right now?

None! We provide software for drones, so we do not have an inspection fleet, except for our own flight tests. Our customers use their own drones or drones from drone service providers. Several dozens of drone operators use our software on a daily basis now.

What parts of the world are you working in currently?

We are purely software, so we can operate anywhere! We already have customers on all continents.

How long does it take to perform a single wind turbine audit or survey with a drone?

Our solution can inspect a wind turbine with less than 30 minutes downtime. The inspection reports can be ready on the next day.

Does your technology also work with solar power installations? About how long does it take to survey a ground-mounted solar installation of several MW?

We plan on offering end-to-end solar panel inspection software in a few months from now. Today, our solution allows the inspection of wind turbines, transmission and distribution power lines and towers.

Image Credit: Sterblue


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