Developing smart drone for solar monitoring

  • Date

    Wed 5 Apr 17

Above Surveying is joining forces with Essex to take their state-of-the-art smart drone to the next technological level in their quest to bring sophisticated, accurate and automated monitoring to Europe’s booming solar farms.

The announcement comes in the week MPs on the Transport Select Committee launched an inquiry into the economic potential of the technology.

Above Surveying, based in Colchester, is the UK’s leading aerial thermographic solar inspection specialist and a pioneer in using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for solar farm monitoring.

They will work with Essex researchers to develop new technological solutions as part of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership supported by Innovate UK – the UK’s innovation agency.

The smart drone will use intelligent embedded systems and advanced image recognition to measure and identify deterioration of photovoltaic (PV) panels across the growing number of large-scale solar farms.

Solar farms use thousands of solar PV panels to generate green, clean electricity at scale to feed into the grid, but identifying problems and defects on these huge facilities is a significant challenge.

The project will also automate and reduce the number of human interventions required when operating the existing UAVs and processing the large volumes of data collected during a typical inspection.

The technology developed through the partnership will form an integral part of Above Surveying’s growth plans, enabling a rapid scaling up across the UK solar market and beyond.

Above Surveying Managing Director, Will Hitchcock, commented on the value of this innovative partnership: “This is an incredibly exciting time for Above Surveying. Demand for our services is increasing rapidly as the sector wakes up to the necessity of routine thermographic inpsections if they are to maximise their solar assets.

"Our partnership with the University of Essex and Innovate UK will give us the combined expertise to take our innovative UAV technology to the next level, keeping our business at the forefront of this developing market.”

Dr John Woods from the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering at the University of Essex added: “Embedded systems technology has the potential to transform many aspects of modern business and the University of Essex has a wealth of leading academics in this space. We are excited about this opportunity to work with Above Surveying to see how we can share our expertise to have a significant impact on their ambitious plans to gain a strong market share in the rapidly growing UAV ‘as a service’ market”.

Due to its potential commercial impact and high level of innovation, the twenty four-month project will be part-funded by Innovate UK through the University of Essex’s Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) scheme – a world-leading programme that helps businesses innovate by connecting them to the UK's wealth of academic resources. The project will be managed by a carefully recruited Embedded Systems Designer - known as the KTP Associate - who will base themselves at Above Surveying full-time and work closely with the University of Essex’s academic team.