The next time drivers see the massive wind turbines on the side of the highway used to generate electrical power, they may want to picture drones flying around them. That will be happening soon, according to a new report from market research firm Navigant Research, a Colorado-based consultancy studying emerging technologies that predicts turbine maintenance drones will be a $6 billion industry by 2024.
The firm assembled a report showing that, as friendly unmanned aerial vehicles become more accepted, they'll also be used to streamline what's traditionally been an incredibly difficult job. The $6 billion valuation would vault the drone inspection industry into the revenue level of the entire tortilla chip industry and the global surf and skateboarding industry, according to Vice Motherboard, which first obtained the report Thursday.
Wind turbines often stand as high as 600 feet tall (not including the blades), forcing repairmen to climb to those heights in a ladder inside the turbine. They then need to climb out and assess the fiberglass surface for any performance or weather-related damage.
If any of this goes wrong – and there have been a number of fatalities – the problem could create power issues. In the near future, Navigant predicted, technicians will fly remotely operated drones to the top of the turbine to inspect for any of these issues beforehand, helping them decide if it's even worth a trip to the top and enabling them to prepare for any potential problems in advance.
“This is driving a brisk business in wind turbine blade inspections, a role that has traditionally been accomplished from the ground with simple visual inspections or more complicated and risky rope or platform access,” the report stated. “UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] are proving to be more than a novelty.”