Today, during a demo moment at DronePort, the result of the innovation process of the Limburg start-up Airobot and project partner Mind4Energy was presented. Both companies have jointly developed an innovative drone technology that can be used to perform automated inspection flights of solar panels. As a result, preventive maintenance and the yield of solar panels can be improved. Previously this had to be done with the use of thermal cameras. The new control system will be deployed, among other things, at the largest PV park in the Benelux that is currently being built in Lommel. The prototype was introduced in the presence of Tom Vandeput, the representative of Economy and the participating companies.

The yields of solar panels have improved considerably in recent years. Because sun energy provides a significant share of renewable energy, large contiguous parks are being built more often. But for optimum performance of solar panels, constant maintenance is required. In addition to cleaning, defective panels must also be quickly identified and replaced. This new application can perform automatic inspection flights and detect small defects or contaminated cells. “From here, new services can be developed within a new, growing market that can result in significant savings for customers. If the market introduction and commercialization is successful, 13 new jobs will be created,” said Deputy Tom Economics Deputy Tom Vandeput. heat up.

Surface temperatures up to 70-80 ° C are no exception. If there are damaged or defective cells on a solar panel, the environmental temperature can quickly rise. This not only means a loss of efficiency but also increases the fire risk.

Problems such as cracks in the crystalline compounds, penetrated moisture or a bad contract can easily be detected with the aid of a thermal imaging camera. A thermographer walks through the park with a thermal camera and inspects each panel individually. Because this check is very labor-intensive, drones come in use more often.

Data recorded to the nearest 1 cm

Airobot NV saw the challenge of drones make flying robots that can perform automatic inspections on landscaped solar parks. The rapid collection of accurate data that can then be converted into useful information offers great added value.

In cooperation with a Dutch drone builder, an industrial drone was developed that can fly stably up to wind force 8 and is resistant to a splash of rain. A complete flight & payload management system is added to this, with which the drone can perform flights automatically. By incorporating GPS technology here, all data is given coordinates that are recorded to the nearest centimeter.

Artificial intelligence makes actions superfluous

Next, a geotagging algorithm was set up to assign the correct position to the photos and the integration of the Agisoft Photoscan software ensures that photos from a standard mapping are processed automatically without the need for a manual action.

Artificial intelligence is used to process the large quantities of images that the drone makes. “Based on hundreds of photos, the AI ​​system was trained to autonomously screen solar panels and then decide whether they are dirty or not. To do this, flights were carried out above various installations, including on the roofs of the Corda Campus in Hasselt (Belgium),” says Jan Leyssens, Managing Director of Airobot.

In order to arrive at a good technical solution, it is important to work together with a party who knows the sector well, who knows what problems can occur in the field and who can offer access to test locations. With the support of the Province of Limburg, in the context of the subsidy regulations for Innovative Entrepreneurship, Airobot from Sint-Truiden has been able to set up a collaboration with Mind4Energy. Mind4Energy is a company from Ghent that specializes in making hardware and software solutions aimed at monitoring and maintaining (renewable) energy installations.

The province supports the development of a new drone service

“The technology developed forms the basis for many applications that The province of Limburg has therefore allocated 50,000 euros for the development of this drone service”, says Deputy of Economy Tom Vandeput. Bringing together the specializations and / or expertise of two or more companies to promote innovation and business growth stimulate, that is the purpose of the provincial innovation premium. In recent years, the province of Limburg has approved 25 business-oriented innovation projects.

These projects provide innovative products or services in various economic sectors. The result is a prototype drone with artificial intelligence that detects automatic solar panels that are dirty. Airobot and Mind4Energy will now jointly develop the technology into a commercial product. If further commercialization goes according to plan, Airobot will employ around 13 additional people by 2022.