GE conducts wind turbine inspection with robotic trial

Niskayuna, N.Y., June 13, 2012 — GE Global Research is advancing technology that will make the inspection of wind turbines faster and more reliable for customers.

Currently, an inspector examines the massive turbine blades from the ground, about 100 meters (328') away, by using a high-power telescope. Now, partnering with Ithaca, N.Y.-based International Climbing Machines, GE engineers have explored a way to do the work using a remote-controlled, robotic device that can scale the wind tower with a wireless, high-definition video camera strapped to its back.

The motivation for the closer inspection is to obtain a more accurate picture of the overall health of the wind turbine blades. From the safety of the ground, an inspector would have a real-time, view of the blades from less than 10 meters (33') away, allowing for a more thorough examination and evaluation of their condition.

This new technology was recently tested at a wind farm in Texas with positive results. Other advantages to using the climber over conventional methods include better weather tolerance. No longer would inspections have to be delayed due to poor lighting conditions, rain, or snow.

GE scientists are also exploring other ways to take inspection technology to new heights. They are in the process of developing a microwave scanner that could be fitted onto the robotic vehicle, enabling an even better view of the wind blades.

The use of microwaves would do more than provide a surface view; it would allow inspectors to see through the blade material giving an even earlier indication of any breakdown in the structure. At GE's India Technology Center, scientists are also testing the use of small, helicopter-like vehicles that would provide for a similar view.

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