Joint project AutoFlow


Thermographic flow detection on rotor blades of offshore wind turbines during operation with the help of an automated and interference-resistant flight system


Key Info

Basic Information

01.07.2022 to 30.06.2025


With the 7th Energy Research Program, the German government is supporting research activities aimed at advancing the energy transition and promoting the extensive use of renewable energies. The goal is for renewable energies to cover the majority of electricity consumption by 2050. Offshore wind turbines play a crucial role in this transition, with approximately 1,500 turbines in German waters providing a significant installed electrical capacity of 7.5 GW. Unlike land-based turbines, offshore wind turbines can be constructed on a larger scale, resulting in increased energy output. However, due to the harsher environmental conditions they face, dirt, damage, or geometric inaccuracies on the rotor blades can lead to substantial yield losses and pose safety risks if vibrations or imbalances affect the blades and the entire tower.


Project Goals and Methods

Schematic representation of an unmanned aerial vehicle Copyright: © IRT The picture shows a schematic representation of an unmanned aerial vehicle including the thermographic measurement system and further sensor technology in use at an offshore wind turbine.

The aim of the AutoFlow research project is the automated thermographic recording of flow conditions on the rotor blade surfaces of operating WTGs. The position of the laminar-turbulent transition as well as areas with laminar or turbulent flow separation shall be visualized. These data are of highest interest, especially for the detection of damage as well as for the aerodynamic optimization of blade profiles but are extremely difficult to generate in practice. An automated flying platform with particularly disturbance-robust flight attitude control serves as the measurement system carrier. The measurement system itself consists of a thermographic camera, a visual camera and a laser scanner. The scanner is used to record the rotor blade geometry and to precisely determine the flight system position. It is not necessary to interrupt the operation of the turbines to carry out the measurements, thus avoiding yield losses. An additional landing camera supports fully automatic take-off and landing maneuvers, for example on a service ship.


Innovations and Perspectives

Sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Economics Affairs and Climate Action

The AutoFlow research project enables a first-time analysis of the aerodynamic flow regimes that occur in the near-surface boundary layer on the rotor blade surfaces of offshore wind turbines in operation on the high seas. The investigation of these occurring phenomena in the "real laboratory" provides new insights into the operation of offshore wind turbines and promotes further projects in a growing segment of energy research.

Project partner

Associated artners

  • Universität Bremen,
    BIMAQ - Institute for Metrology, Automation and Quality Science
    Project coordinator, development of the thermographic measurement system, detection of the flow conditions, evaluation and geometric assignment of the measurement data
  • RWTH Aachen University,
    IRT - Institute of Automatic Control
    Test specification, robust flight control, path planning, localization, robust automation of measurement routine, validation of individual components
  • Deutsche WindGuard Engineering GmbH
    Implementation of the application scenarios and evaluation based on final scenarios
  • Foudation OFFSHORE WIND ENERGIE Dissemination, regulatory review, development and validation of operating and logistics concept, economic feasibility study
  • Copting GmbH
    System specification, communication with control room and operation management of offshore wind turbine, UAV setup, test flights, hardware and overall integration, proof of robustness, special permission ascent permit
  • OECON Products & Services GmbH
    Launch and landing routine, acquisition of external data, transmission of telemetry and sensor data, sensor concept, automatic monitoring of the copter system, software and hardware safety
  • WindMW GmbH
    Offshore wind farm operator Enabling on-site testing and demonstration on an offshore wind turbine at the Meerwind Süd/Ost wind farm by the Helgoland service base