June 28, 2022

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Unmanned taxi for technology and service tools

Offshore wind energy is indispensable for energy transmission and sustainable energy supply. Wind turbines on the high seas make a significant contribution to securing our supply. Long outdoor distance also means long distances and long travel times for maintenance teams that have a very valuable asset to every service technician: efficient working time on wind turbines. Every hour avoided in transportation improves facility efficiency.

Can service technicians also use AirTaxi to fly to work on wind turbines while tools and materials were previously delivered by a heavy-duty drone – an engineer’s dream?

If you notice the many developments related to urban air mobility, such as the expansion of airspace transportation systems, as well as the financial commitment of logistics companies to drone technologies, it only makes sense to take a closer look at the “offshore wind farm” application. “In our first discussions with drone experts, we received only positive feedback. The use of drones can also provide high added value and reduce costs. Since we fly almost exclusively over uninhabited areas, we expect fewer restrictions from air mobility. in urban areas,” says Michael Split, EnBW’s head of offshore wind energy operations.

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Current working methods are safe and well-established, but service technicians who are time-consuming and accommodating on the high seas are costly on the high seas. If tools and materials are brought directly to the wind turbine 100 meters above the ground using a heavy-duty drone, then there will be no need for crane work. If service technicians are traveling with passenger drones known as AirTaxis, there is no need for the bridging and overnights on the high seas associated with two-week shifts.

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“As the operator of offshore wind farms, we would like to help make this new logistics approach a standard service worldwide,” says Michael Split. Our role is to bring together heavy-duty wind and drone technologies and address a number of core challenges. Among other things, it should be clarified how offshore wind farms should be equipped to enable the use of drones, what the landing platform for drones should look like, how the transport container should be designed and what communication interfaces should look like,” Jonas Janke, project manager in charge and specialist at Overseas at EnBW.

The research project, funded by the Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection, also aims to examine the legal framework for operating transport drones on offshore wind farms and uncover legal aspects that are not yet covered for the application or are in conflict with current regulations. The goal is to know the conditions and steps needed to achieve UAV operations for both material and passenger transportation.

The DLR (German Aerospace Center) defines the framework conditions for the operation of drones in a wind farm environment and makes its findings on drones available. Scientists conducted experiments using a DLR drone in a wind farm on Earth. At the same time, the process in the offshore area is being developed as a model and is examined in detail in simulations.

So that the research project does not end in theory, a comprehensive practical test is already being prepared: the Offshore Drone Challenge (ODC). “We invite all technology players to take advantage of our research findings and demonstrate them directly to the global trade press as part of a test with their own products,” says Jonas Janke. EnBW is already working on designing the competition, along with DLR and other partners. After that, a high-level jury will award the “Drone Oscar”. ODC’s first workshops will take place in the fall at the 2022 Hamburg Wind Energy Trade Fair. (nw)

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