Watch a giant industrial drone de-ice a huge wind turbine

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We’re still riding a wave of drone innovation as companies dream up new ways to put this cheap flight technology to use. But here’s an application you’ve probably never seen before: using a giant tethered drone to de-ice a wind turbine.

The drone itself is built by Latvian firm Aerones, which specializes in heavy-duty UAVs. These powerful craft have up to 36 propellors and can lift as much as 100 kilograms. Aerones has been making them for years and says they have a range of potential uses, including help in rescue scenarios, firefighting in high-rise buildings, delivery, and industrial cleaning.

It’s the cleaning that gets spotlighted in the video above (via IEEE Spectrum), with one of the drones seen knocking snow and ice off the blades of a wind turbine. The craft has a tether line supplying water, which it sprays at up to 100 liters a minute (with optional de-icing coating), and another for power, meaning it can stay aloft indefinitely. Cleaning by drone costs around $1,000, compared to $5,000 and up for cleaning by climbers.

The process is good for general maintenance, but also helps increase power efficiency. If snow and ice build up on a turbine’s blades, it slows the rate at which they produce powerand can even bring it to a complete halt. Aerones adds that using a drone for de-icing is both quicker and safer than sending humans up using a cherry picker.

Speaking to The Verge by email, Aerones CEO Janis Putrams said the company was still in the process of raising funding to get its system fully commercialized, but that the team were “getting much more requests than we can fulfill.”