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HR-1001 robot from Helical Robotics is designed to scale Windturbine towers to allow operators to perform maintainance remotely. (via Helical Robotics)

 

As the growing field of wind energy continues to develop, a question arises - how can we safely and routinely perform maintenance on such colossal structures? Maintenance is an important aspect to ensuring proper function of gadgets and our immediate environment - several bots have been released that help you clean your home, wipe off your smartphone’s LCD screen, and remotely perform hazardous tasks in harmful environments. Similarly, the Schlee brothers set out on a quest to help wind farmers maintain their large, work intensive wind turbines.

 

In May 2010, Bruce and Keith Schlee launched Helical Robotics, a company focused on developing remote-controlled robots that can scale up and down a turbine will carrying tools and a camera to perform several different tasks. Bruce, whom has an aviation science and business administration background, first came up with the idea when a friend of his complained about the difficulty of removing and painting a turbine blade. Keith, the engineer in the family who has worked with NASA in the past, was excited about the idea and was quick to get to work. With a total of 7 employees, Helical Robotics presented their HR-1001 ULL bot to around 11,000 spectators at the Windpower 2012 Conference and Exhibition last June.

 

The brothers describe the robot as a rolling chassis that uses magnets to stick to the surface of the wind turbine stem. The five magnets on the chassis allow the robot to act as a constant force spring - pre-designated magnets apply a pressure to the surface it rolls on without actually touching the surface. For instance, when scaling an airfoil, the HR-1001 applies pressure to its leading and trailing edge so that only its upper and lower portion remain adhered to the surface. The chassis moves on wheel-mounted rollers oriented so that they perform a helical motion as the wheels turn forward. The design also allows for a mountable camera for inspection and navigation, and a robot-arm that can be used for painting or welding. The robot itself is scalable in size, ranging from a few pounds to several tons depending on the design. Several tests also proved that the HR-1001 could withstand adverse weather and wind conditions.

 

Bruce and Keith hope that their design will bode well now that several players in the wind industry may be looking into sustaining their turbines rather than buying new ones due to the recent federal stimulus cutback on funding. The device can potentially keep people out of harm’s way while saving companies money on maintenance. Plenty of interest was received during the conference, and cold-calls to companies have landed them several upcoming meetings. GE has recently released information about a bot they are working on the uses a vacuum and tank-like treads to climb up turbine walls. This, of course, helps legitimize the Schlee brother’s start-up into a growing maintenance-bot market.

 

 

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