11. April 2022
Research project investigates the potential of unmanned aerial vehicles

Trans­port drones for off­shore wind farms

Preliminary study on the use of helicopters in offshore wind farms (simulation)
Pre­lim­i­nary study on the use of he­li­copters in off­shore wind farms (sim­u­la­tion)
Image 1/2, Credit: DLR (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Preliminary study on the use of helicopters in offshore wind farms (simulation)

Air­craft have to ex­change in­for­ma­tion with in­di­vid­u­al wind tur­bines if they are to move around safe­ly with­in an off­shore wind farm.
DLR superARTIS research helicopter
DLR su­per­AR­TIS re­search he­li­copter
Image 2/2, Credit: DLR (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

DLR superARTIS research helicopter

su­per­AR­TIS is one of the un­manned aeri­al ve­hi­cles that DLR us­es for its ex­per­i­ments.
  • Drones could simplify logistics for offshore wind turbines.
  • Communications and safe operations require sophisticated technology.
  • Project jointly run by the DLR Institute of Flight Systems and energy supplier EnBW.
  • Focus: Aeronautics, energy, wind power, uncrewed flight, technology transfer, future mobility.

Wind turbines are among the most important technologies for a sustainable energy supply. In the case of offshore plants, maintenance teams and materials have to travel long distances to reach the site. The time and costs involved are comparatively high. Could drones provide a safe and effective alternative to sending out ships, helicopters and cranes in future, and could they take some of the pressure off of maintenance staff? This is the focus of the Upcoming Drones Wind Farm (UDW) project, jointly conducted by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) and energy supplier EnBW Energie Baden-Württemberg AG.

Drones are already being used to inspect wind turbines, but the experience gained from operating small inspection drones cannot be scaled up to transport drones. "In future, transport drones will have to be able to handle loads of several hundred kilograms and enable the direct transport of maintenance personnel. These options have not yet been tested," says Sebastian Cain of the DLR Institute of Flight Systems in Braunschweig. The DLR researchers will also be looking at the cost-effectiveness of such transport drones, in conjunction with the DLR Institute of Air Transportation Systems in Hamburg. "The project should provide a clear indication of the conditions under which drones can reasonably be used in wind farms," says Cain.

Drones to deliver equipment to wind turbines

As part of the project, researchers will be looking at the interaction between the drones and the wind turbines. Which interfaces are necessary, how is information exchanged, and which regulatory requirements must be taken into account? "The goal is for the drone to calculate the best route itself. If transit flights are to be carried out, we need to have information on which flight paths are safe, and wind turbines must be stopped if necessary. Of course, we need to interfere with the operation of the system as little as possible," says Cain. Dangerous areas, such as air turbulence zones behind active wind turbines, will need to be avoided, and DLR has conducted measurements on wind turbines for that purpose.

EnBW will bring its particular perspective and expertise as a wind farm operator to bear on the areas of the project that focus on wind power. DLR will define the general conditions for operating drones in a wind farm environment and release its findings relating to unmanned aerial vehicles. Its researchers are conducting experiments using a DLR drone at a wind farm on land. At the same time, DLR will develop a model for offshore operations and examine it in detail using simulations.

The project partners are also planning an 'Offshore Drone Challenge' (ODC), where drone manufacturers and service providers will have the opportunity to present their products as suitable solutions during a call for proposals. Technology providers will benefit from the research findings. Initial workshops as part of the project are planned for autumn 2022. The Upcoming Drones Wind Farm project is funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Klimaschutz; BMWK).

Safe operation of unmanned aerial vehicles

The goal of the research and development work conducted at the Institute of Flight Systems is the simple and safe operation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in complex situations, including challenging weather conditions, flight environments where obstacles are present, and during interactions with other airspace users. Areas of focus include unmanned cargo transport, the development of hardware and software components and the necessary certifications. The Institute operates several uncrewed aerial vehicles to examine these issues.

  • Katja Lenz
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)

    Cor­po­rate Com­mu­ni­ca­tions
    Telephone: +49 2203 601-5401
    Linder Höhe
    51147 Cologne
  • Sebastian Cain
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    In­sti­tute of Flight Sys­tems
    Un­manned Air­craft
    Lilienthalplatz 7
    38108 Braunschweig
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