Design Engineering

Robotic crawler climbs wind turbines, inspects blades

By Design Engineering Staff   

General GE Research Robotics wind turbine

GE inspection robot scales 300-foot poles and can pull up to 225-pounds.

Engineers at GE’s Global Research Center (GRC) are currently testing a wall climbing robot that can scale wind turbine poles to inspect them for potential stress or damage. Typically, checking wind turbines takes hours and requires an inspector to photograph potential defects through a telescope.

To streamline the process, GE has partnered with New York-based robotics company, International Climbing Machines (ICM) to develope a remote-controlled robot with a wireless high-definition camera on board. The device can scale vertical, 300-foot high steel turbine poles in minutes, photograph turbine blades, and beam the results back to a laptop.

To adhere to potentially rain slick surfaces or resist being blown off by wind, the robot is equipped with a pump at its center that creates a vacuum between its belly and the wall, allowing the 30-pound vehicle to scale any hard surface including concrete, brick, or metal. In fact, the vacuum seal is strong enough to allow the robot to pull as much as 225 pounds up a wall. The robot’s soft tracks maintain its grip even when it rides over bumps in the surface like bolt heads, plates, and weld seams.

According to GE, the machine has already passed one inspection test at a wind farm in Texas a year ago. GRC engineers are now considering adding a microwave scanner that could also peer inside the blades and give an early indication of any breakdown in the structure.



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