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Offshore logistics drones

A joint research project of EnBW and DLR

Digital presskit
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Offshore wind energy is playing a key role in helping us to achieve our climate goals. Wind farms at sea have a twenty-year service life. They are often situated far from the coast. We have always developed smart solutions to ensure the efficient operation and maintenance of these wind farms, whether in the form of modern maintenance concepts or service ships. We have realized that we can conduct our business activities even more flexibly and directly with future technologies such as drones, while at the same time significantly cutting carbon emissions. That is why we launched an offshore logistics drones research project. This project „Upcoming Drones Windfarm“ is funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action.

Offshore Logistics Drones

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Drone technology will play an even larger role worldwide, particularly in the area of logistics. Many sectors see real potential for the transportation of people and materials. The EnBW research project will examine whether the use of drones is promising for the offshore wind sector and especially establish which technological, economic and regulatory requirements will need to be met.

Logistical challenges associated with ever larger offshore wind farms are expected to be met by automated transport drones in the future to reduce operating costs.

Technology and investments around Urban Air Mobility are in a steep development curve - we use this commitment for our use case by directly connecting the mental step out to offshore wind farms. We are working on a new business segment for Urban Air Mobility, which will bring in volumes that can be planned in the long term.

Marcus Ihle, EnBW

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Our approach

Business models are being drawn up within the research project and the efficiency of drones examined.

From a technological perspective, the transport drones should be able to carry loads in the form of tools, maintenance consumables and spare parts, but later also personnel, to and from their work locations in the wind farm. For such uses, the project is evaluating suitable configurations and load-bearing systems for the drone and shaping the interaction between offshore wind farm and drone.

Interfaces must be created at both hardware and software level to enable the use of transport drones. Legal framework conditions must also be taken into consideration in these concepts. How will drones and wind farms be certified for this purpose in the future? Which international conditions must be taken into account for such OWP in the future? The automation concept is developed and validated in a simulated environment set up as part of the project. At the same time, operational aspects relevant to the implementation of the transport mission are worked on. The aim here is to achieve a high degree of efficiency and maximum operational safety

True to our motto "Knowledge for Tomorrow", we are happy to be challenged by the topic of "Offshore Logistics with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles": We see reimagined aircraft, uncomfortable environmental conditions and regulation, and high autonomy requirements as an opportunity to conceptualise drone technology to enable low-cost green energy.

Sebastian Cain, DLR

Our partners

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  • The German Aerospace Center (DLR) is involved in the research project
  • We are also pleased to have associate partners on board. The Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH) is supervising our project in its role as the licensing authority for wind farms in the German exclusive economic zone.
  • The Dutch wind turbine manufacturer 2-B Energy is contributing its expertise gained from the development of landing pads on wind turbines.
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Communication between wind farm system and unmanned helicopter successfully demonstrated at Schwienau onshore wind farm

The unmanned DLR superARTIS helicopter approaches the wind turbine

In October 2023, the unmanned DLR superARTIS small helicopter took off from the EnBW Schwienau II and III wind farms in Lower Saxony/Germany.

The aim was to test the communication between the drone and the wind farm, which had previously been worked out in theory and programmed at DLR and EnBW. The communication interface created enabled the superARTIS to receive data such as wind speed, wind direction, wind turbine orientation and rotor speed and then select its flight route.

During the test, the superARTS first made sure that the rotor of the wind turbine to be approached was stationary. The helicopter then safely approached the wind turbine from the side facing away from the wind until a predetermined distance was reached. If the drone had not received clearance for this, it would have automatically flown into a holding pattern.

The test did not take place at sea, but on land to make the experiments safer and easier to carry out. For a realistic scenario, the researchers attached a payload to the drone. The results can be transferred to offshore installations. The communication between superARTIS and the wind turbine was designed for offshore operation and is being analysed in simulations.

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ODC schedule
Offshore Drone Challenge (ODC) - Schedule | Status: 14.06.2022

Offshore Drone Challenge

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We are inviting drone manufacturers and service providers to demonstrate how their technology can transport heavy loads and people. In 2023, we officially announced the task and technical framework and called on interested parties to register with a deadline of 31.07.2023, with good response. We will hold the Offshore Drone Challenge in Germany in the summer of 2024 on 19th and 20th June, at DLR's Cochstedt site “National Test Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems”.

The framework conditions for participation in the Offshore Drone Challenge are known in the industry. Interested parties and investors have received key figures for their strategic planning, for engineering teams and for their own corporate communications at an early stage A high-ranking jury - a panel of experts from business and science - has formed The leading trade fairs for wind energy and urban air mobility are further milestones on the way to the challenge in the summer of 2024. In the meantime, there will be a broad call for participation among experts. The Offshore Drone Challenge 2024 will be a venue for drone demonstrations and dialogue between technology, business and regulation - and for business matchmaking between a wide range of stakeholders.

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The Offshore Drone Challenge jury

(in alphabetical order):

  • Lucy Craig, DNV, Director, Growth, Innovation and Digital
  • Dr. Jan Dirks, BMDV, Officer at the Federal Ministry for Digital Affairs and Transport
  • Achim Friedl, President JEDA - Joint European Drone Associations and former Director at Federal Police
  • Prof. Dr.-Ing. Alexander Köthe, Professor at TH Wildau and CTO at AlphaLink Engineering
  • Tim Strohbach, Fraunhofer IFAM, Research assistant, i. a. "Drone Campus Cuxhaven"
  • Michele Willams, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS), Global Head of Risk Consulting
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Graphic flight tasks

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EnBW Energie Baden-Württemberg AG
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