Wind turbines look like giant pinwheels, light-colored towers rotating purposefully in the breeze. At least from a distance. Stand right underneath a wind turbine, and you'll see that there's nothing delicate about these marvels of renewable energy. As turbines increase in size, some with blades over 300 feet in length, its become nearly impossible to perform thorough inspections for damage or malfunction by hand.
Some technicians must resort to high powered telescopes to inspect the behemoths from the ground, but as turbines continue to climb toward the sky, even this is getting difficult. Last year, GE partnered up with the US-based International Climbing Machines to develop a robot that can scale the wind turbine and along the blades themselves. Now, Oregon, Wisconsin-based Helical Robotics if offering up its own improvement on this clever idea.
The Helical Robotics version, called the HR-MP series, sports a few visible improvements over the prototype being tested by GE and partners. First, no wires. The HR-MP bots are controlled wirelessly via radio signal rather than being tethered to a command station like the International Climbing Machines’ Climber robot.
Using five neodymium magnets to cling to the turbine's curved metallic surface, the HR-MP20 is able to ascend the turbine shaft with ease. Then, controlled by a technician with a remote control positioned safely on the ground, it can be maneuvered onto the blades for a complete inspection via digital camera.
"A variety of sizes are available (or are in the works), with the HR-MP20 occupying the middle of the range," reports Gizmag. "It weighs 42 pounds, can carry up to 20 pounds of sensors and other gear while climbing, at speeds of up to 43.6 feet per minute.
See the HR-MP20 in action below.