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Marshall Futureworx unveils Lilypad, an AI-powered autonomous UAV inspection system for offshore wind farms

Marshall Futureworx has unveiled a system of autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that could revolutionise how offshore wind farms are inspected.

The company, the venture building and advanced technologies arm of Marshall of Cambridge, said its ground-breaking Lilypad ecosystem utilises artificial intelligence and navigational sensors, enabling the drones to go beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS).

Lilypad has been unveiled by Marshall Futureworx
Lilypad has been unveiled by Marshall Futureworx

Deployed from offshore charging stations, the UAVs can be monitored by a single remote pilot in an onshore command and control centre, cutting out the need for engineers to perform manual offshore inspections.

The drones can transmit crucial inspection data and reports back to wind farm operators, enabling faster, more frequent, reliable and predictive maintenance scheduling.

The announcement comes as Marshall Futureworx is named as a finalist in the Tech for Good category of the Cambridge Independent Science and Technology Awards 2023.

Marshall Futureworx managing director Kieren Paterson said: “The ever increasing demand for secure and renewable energy to power our communities has resulted in the surging need for innovative solutions to enable the installation and support of offshore wind infrastructure, right from initial construction and through the life of projects.

“Leveraging our demonstrated talent for integrating leading technologies and providing support services to customers operating in demanding and regulated environments, we are excited to share the first of these products – Lilypad, an offshore wind farm inspection service that provides truly scalable inspection capacity to support the significant growth and increasing remoteness of offshore wind farms.

“Lilypad uses permanently resident autonomous UAVs allowing us to provide on-demand and scheduled inspections timed to minimise the economic impact on wind farm operations. Lilypad decouples the cost of inspection from sea state, distance from shore and seasonal considerations and eliminates the need for offshore personnel during inspections.”

The UK has the world’s second largest installed offshore wind capacity, providing about 12GW of power and forming a key part of the government’s net zero strategy.

It is targeting 50GW of installed capacity by 2030 and potentially more than 100GW by 2050, meaning there is growing demand for safe, scalable technologies to inspect, maintain and ensure the efficiency of wind turbines, while minimising costs to energy users.

Marshall Futureworx says the improved frequency and quality of intelligence that operators will gain through Lilypad’s remote inspections means the amount of time wind turbines will be operational is expected to rise fast and their lifecycle should increase.

The CAA-certified system features state-of-the-art sensor systems and edge processing, and will enable operators to maximise weather windows.

The company signed a memorandum of understanding in 2022 with ISS Aerospace, which offers leading industrial UAVs, and with sees.ai, which offers AI-powered drone guidance and control software.

Ryan Kempley, ISS Aerospace CEO, said: “ISS Aerospace is delighted to have been appointed by Marshall Futureworx to provide a derivative of our Sensus ML8-XP UAV for the Lilypad ecosystem. The Sensus family of UAVs has seen considerable buy-in from our defence, security and energy clients and seen operations worldwide.

“ISS provides highly innovative, customer requirement focused solutions which deliver on-board multi-modal sensor integration to deliver intelligence solutions at the highest tempo.”

John McKenna, CEO of sees.ai, added: “We're thrilled to be able to reveal more about this project. Not only does it involve deep collaboration with Marshall, one of the UK's leading aerospace companies, and an exciting opportunity to develop a defensible world-leading product for a huge and rapidly-growing global market, but it also gives us the opportunity to make a substantial impact on one of the most pressing challenges of our time: the transition to net zero.

“With this stellar consortium we look forward to pushing the boundaries of what is possible with UAV technology.”

Lilypad’s first public showcase will be at the Global Offshore Wind Exhibition in London on June 14, at Stand A66. Visit marshallfutureworx.com/lilypad for more.

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