Latvian drone startup Aerones made plenty of headlines last year when one of its drones was used to assist the world’s first drone skydive. As publicity stunts go, we can’t think of anything better in the industry.
But all stunts like that are aimed at bringing attention to something more specific. In Aerones case, that something was the capability of the company’s huge, 28-motor drone. Tethered or not, the company now has big ambitions in sports, search and rescue, firefighting and industrial cleaning and maintenance.
Inspection and maintenance in the energy sector
Drones are already an established part of the maintenance process in the energy sector, from Sky Futures’ oil and gas inspections to Airobot’s use of UAVs on solar farms.
But as we reported at the time, Aerones has bigger ambitions for its huge industrial drone. The company’s platform is able to take a much more active role in the upkeep of wind farms.
In colder climates, the efficiency of wind turbines is compromised by the build-up of ice. In fact, according to the International Energy Agency, even a small amount of icing on wind turbine blades can reduce annual energy production by five percent. More severe icing can lead to annual losses of over 20 percent.
That’s where Aerones’ mega drone comes in. On the company’s revamped website, the tethered, 28-prop machine “aims to provide an effective, practical and economical alternative for cleaning the wind turbine blades using machinery adapted to the needs [of the task at hand].
Current techniques to keep wind turbines free from ice are potentially hazardous for crews, time-consuming and expensive. Depending on the size of the blades and the weather conditions, Aerones claims its technology is capable of de-icing 30 blades in a single day.
It’s clear that plenty of thought has gone into Aerones’ giant solution. From the diagram below, the company has included all sorts of tech, including radar and thermal imaging, to ensure flights are as safe and efficient as possible.
The tethered platform also has an indefinite flight time – something that offers a range of operational benefits in the field. It can reach a height of 400m and fire water out for cleaning or defrosting at 200 bars of pressure.
Questions remain over whether international aviation bodies will allow for such a huge machine to become common-place on industrial sites. The trend in the industry at the moment is towards smaller aircraft with just as many safety features but a whole lot less kinetic energy.
Is the extra capability worth the extra risk?