Nfld. & Labrador

Newfoundland technology a winner in search for new ways to inspect offshore wind farms

Newfoundland company Kraken Robotics is among the winners of an international competition to find new ways to inspect offshore wind turbines.

Kraken Robotics laser scanning technology used to predict problems before they happen

A wind farm off the southeastern coast of England. There are about 4,000 of the farms throughout Europe. (David Bebber/Canadian Press/Archive)

Newfoundland and Labrador company Kraken Robotics is among the winners of an international competition to find new ways to inspect offshore wind turbines.

The company's German subsidiary, KrakenRobotik, was one of only four companies that won the Carbon Trust's Offshore Wind Accelerator (OWA) competition, which was funded by nine offshore wind developers and the government of Scotland.

Kraken Robotics is using laser technology on its underwater vehicles, like the one shown, to inspect offshore wind turbines. (Kraken Robotics)

Kraken won the competition with a new underwater laser imaging system that it developed, which can be used to inspect the nearly 4,000 offshore wind turbines that currently exist in European waters.

The United Kingdom, Germany and Denmark are the biggest markets for offshore wind energy, and there's a big push there to find new ways to predict technical and mechanical problems before they happen.

"They are in a hostile, corrosive environment and we need to look at things like erosion and the cables that are connecting these devices together to make sure there's not going to be any failures," Kraken President Karl Kenny told CBC Radio's The Broadcast.

"We take our laser system, we put it on a robot and we send it down in the water and basically use the lasers to scan that underwater structure and in real time we can recreate it in 3D."

Change detection

Kraken is mostly known for its underwater sonar work, which has assisted in the discovery of an Avro Arrow prototype in Lake Ontario and the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH37.

However, Kenny said the new underwater laser imaging system is much more precise, able to detect and recreate objects in the millimetre range and recreate 3D models.

Kraken's new laser scanning system is more precise than sonar detection, which is what the company is known for. (Kraken Robotics)

By using Kraken robots to scan underwater turbine equipment on a regular basis, companies can then use machine learning – also called artificial intelligence – to predict changes that a human might miss during a visual inspection.

"The more high resolution data we collect over time, we can use machine learning to predict when there's going to be a failure or breakdown and advise the operator in advance of any catastrophe," Kenny said.

"Constant scans can predict those failures or when something needs to be maintained."

A growth industry

Kenny said many companies applied to the OWA competition, and Kraken is delighted to be one of the four companies selected at the end.

The win will give Kraken immediate access to senior level executives and technical management at some of the big companies developing offshore wind farms. Kenny said the same technology could also have have applications in the offshore oil industry in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Karl Kenny is the president and CEO of Kraken Robotics. (Kraken Robotics)

With that in mind, he would like to see Canada and Newfoundland get more involved in harnessing offshore wind power, given the explosion of the technology he's witnessed in Europe and increasingly in the United States.

"We're from Newfoundland, we've got lots of winds," he said.

"There's almost 4,000 of these things operating in Europe. If it didn't make sense and they weren't making money they wouldn't be operating."

With files from CBC Radio's The Broadcast