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Perceptual Robotics: wind turbine health for a more sustainable future

Perceptual Robotics: wind turbine health for a more sustainable future

With the Dhalion autonomous inspection platform, Perceptual Robotics combines drone technology and artificial intelligence to provide cost-effective and high-quality wind turbine inspections.


Although modern wind turbines have only been used since the late 1940s, humans have been harnessing the power of wind as a sustainable energy source for thousands of years. Through technology, innovation and economies of scale, the global wind power market has nearly quadrupled in size over the past decade and established itself as one of the most cost-competitive and resilient power sources in the world.

According to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), there are more than 341,000 wind turbines spinning and generating energy across the globe. For as long as the sun shines and the wind blows, the energy produced from these skyscraper-like structures can be used to send power across the grid.

With such a vital role these infrastructures play in the world, how can we ensure they operate at optimal capacity? Cue entrepreneurs Dimitris NikolaidisKevin Driscoll-Lind and Kostas Karachalios, who took on the problem that needed to be addressed. After years of studying the wind energy industry, these young innovators were looking to better understand how to best maintain wind turbine blades, an essential yet expensive component of each turbine. They were quickly motivated to develop a technology that could positively impact the industry on a larger scale and thus, Perceptual Robotics was born.


Automating wind turbine health

Perceptual Robotics was founded in 2016 in Bristol Robotics Laboratory, based in the United Kingdom. The company focuses on providing wind turbine inspection engineers with a new, cost-effective tool that increases the number of checks and the quality of their work, whilst minimizing health and safety risks.

“The task of inspecting and maintaining these structures is becoming increasingly challenging,” claims co-founder and CEO Kostas Karachalios. He continues to mention, “there is a clear need for faster, safer inspections that produce high-quality data in order to conduct preventative maintenance and reduce the need for technicians to attend to turbines.” By combining the power of robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, Perceptual Robotics has launched intelligent automation for wind turbine health care. 


The main innovation behind the startup can be summed up in one word: Dhalion. Dhalion is an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) that can carry out an entire turbine inspection in a matter of minutes. “With the use of a tablet device, the operator oversees the drone while it takes off and photographs the entire wind turbine blade automatically,” states Karachalios. After landing, the high-resolution image data is uploaded to an automatic AI system that processes the photos to detect any damage in the blades. With all personnel safely on the ground, data is collected and analyzed efficiently through a reporting software and maintenance teams can work from anywhere in the world to make the best possible decisions for the long-term health of these assets.

Karachalios declares that the solution “is driven by meticulous data and the science of materials.” He adds: “This allows us to provide much more granular information about any defects, and to make sure we detect possible issues before they become a problem, reducing wind turbine downtime, and significantly affecting the repairs needed in the future.” Another of the biggest differentiating factors in Perceptual Robotics’ solution is the ability to work with clients to deploy the processing and reporting software within their own servers, improving transparency and security.


A sustainable mindset

Onshore and offshore wind turbine installations are growing every year in order to contribute to achieving net-zero carbon emissions and reduce reliance on traditional power plants. Furthermore, new turbines are increasing their generation capacity, which means that they are also increasing in size to capture more wind energy. This is pushing the limits of material engineering to produce energy more efficiently and compete with other energy production methods.

“Our contribution to the sustainable economy lies within the entire lifecycle of wind farms,” declares Karachalios. As wind energy becomes more competitive, Perceptual Robotics and the Dhalion solution aim to contribute to sustainable wind farm management:

  • Reducing operational costs;
  • Facilitating faster adoption of alternative energy technologies;
  • Increasing efficiency by optimizing blade maintenance;
  • Creating safer working conditions for technicians;
  • Improving operational knowledge;
  • Increasing the longevity of wind turbine assets.


The perceptual future of turbines

In its first few years, the company’s growth has been supported by the Greek wind energy industry and research community, leading to the opening of new headquarters in Athens. After an extensive scouting performed by the European Innovation Hub of Enel, started in 2019, Perceptual Robotics pitched their solution at the 2020 Barcelona Bootcamp. In Greece, the startup then carried out testing at the Center for Renewable Energy Resources and began working with Enel to test the technology. “Enel Green Power Hellas provided us with initial feedback and directions for our product development, allowed us to demonstrate some of our first ever inspections and pushed us to develop a product that best fits market needs,” discloses Karachalios.

As the partnership continues, we at Enel co-develop solutions with Perceptual Robotics to optimize the use of AI on wind turbine blade images, there is no doubt that the technology can have a massive impact on the future cost of turbine blade repairs. Perceptual Robotics was able to work with us to develop and finalize a proof of concept (POC) which is currently being implemented in the wind farm fleet. In addition, as part of the collaboration with Enel, Perceptual Robotics has been already involved in activities with the ecosystem; the startup has been invited to pitch in front of investors and other corporates at Ecosummit Berlin (September 2021) and to showcase at Enel Innovation Hubs’ stand in Enlit’s Inititiate Hub in Milan (November 2021).

The startup continues to evolve through digitalization and by providing clients with a safer and more automated way to perform necessary inspections. Karachalios acknowledges that “our immediate next step is to bring our technology to offshore wind turbines, combining our system with autonomous and manned boats to deal with even more challenging weather conditions.” By combining powerful technology with a growing need, Perceptual Robotics will continue to push forward and provide in-depth insights that contribute to a more sustainable future.