International UAV consultancy Airobot has announced it has locked in a partnership with Mind4Energy to develop an unmanned aircraft to carry out close range solar panel inspections.
The framework comes in response to the rapidly growing amount of solar PV plants, with many facilities boasting over 100,000 individual panels.
To guarantee the energy output, malfunctioning panels need to be detected and replaced as quickly as possible.
A spokesperson for Airobot said: “Infrared cameras on drones enable easy detection of defect panels, but the technology isn’t accurate enough to predict where problems will pop up. Ideally, each panel should be inspected frequently on damage or soiling. And in these large solar farms it takes a person at least one day to walk the complete site.”
The partnership is supported by an innovation subsidy from the Province of Limburg, Belgium.
“In this project we’re going to turn a professional drone into a flying robot for solar panel inspections,” said Jan Leyssens, managing director at Airobot.
“We’ll add technology to make the drone fly safely and automatically at low altitudes above the panels and record with centimeter accuracy where the pictures are taken. The images will be stored in the cloud and processed with Artificial Intelligence to detect panels with problems.”
Dirk Eeraerts, co-founder of Mind4Energy, added: “It will help to get us a fast overview of the panels that need maintenance or cleaning which allows us to increase the lifespan of the installation and, in the end, reduce the cost of energy.”
The project will run throughout 2018 and first results are expected by the end of the year.