Autonomous drone being developed for hazardous inspection job (Photo: DTU Electrical Engineering)

Autonomous drone being developed for hazardous inspection job

Tuesday 25 May 21


Rune Yding Brogaard
Industrial PhD
DTU Electrical Engineering


Evangelos Boukas
Associate Professor
DTU Electro
+45 52 90 17 29


Lars Vesth
FORCE Technology
+45 43 25 04 52
Together with FORCE Technology, DTU is developing an autonomous drone to be used for inspection of, for example, closed ship tanks that are otherwise difficult to access. This will significantly increase safety. 

The ballast tanks of a ship must be regularly inspected to ensure that there is no rust, corrosion, or bad welds. The task is not unhazardous, and people are regularly injured during inspections due to oxygen deprivation, falling parts, or gas leakage.

The ‘Inspectrone’ project with the participation of DTU and FORCE Technology—among other partners—focuses on developing an autonomous drone that can perform the inspection and thus reduce the risk to maintenance crew. 

The young researcher Rune Yding Brogaard is one of the participants in the project, headed by Associate Professor Evangelos Boukas, DTU Electrical Engineering

“I’ve been interested in drones since I was a student. It was therefore an obvious choice for me—as an electrical engineer graduate—to continue to work with drones in FORCE Technology. With this project, I’ve been given the opportunity to work with DTU researchers who are experts and have the latest knowledge in autonomous drones,” says Rune. 

Navigation without use of GPS
In the project, Rune’s assignment is to secure navigation and positioning of the drone without using GPS. In fact, it is not possible to pick up GPS signals in the closed ballast tanks. The objective is to develop an autonomous drone that can itself start from the ship deck, find its way through the ballast tanks, and return with a report on the location of the ascertained defects and a description of how serious they are. 

The drone is equipped with a camera and a lidar for measuring distance using laser beams. The ballast tanks are located side by side on the ship and are often also stacked on top of each other in several layers. And access to the tanks is through a small manhole in the wall. While flying through the tanks, the drone must therefore keep track of where it is and be able to draw a map of the location of the tanks. It must also scan the steel walls of the tank with ultrasound to assess the thickness of the rust and corrosion it observes during its inspection. 

“We’re facing a big challenge of having enough good sensors on the drone without it weighing too much. Right now, there are about two kilos of sensors installed, and this is close to the limit of what the drone can handle when it must also able to move freely in and out of the holes in the ballast tanks,” says Rune. 

Also for wind turbine blades
If they succeed, the technology will also be interesting to use in many other contexts. This may be for inspection in pipe systems, tunnels, or mines, where there is also no GPS coverage. Or it may be for inspection of wind turbine blades, where the drone’s use of ultrasound technology is the essential aspect. 

“Today, it requires both cranes and crew to inspect the blades of a wind turbine, so—with a drone equipped with an ultrasound scanner—we will be able to offer a faster and less expensive inspection in future,” says Lars Vesth, Chief Digital Officer & Chief Operating Officer in FORCE Technology. 

“I have no doubt that the results of Rune’s work will be useful in this connection. At the same time, the project is a good example of how our collaboration with DTU ensures the use of research in real life and in areas in which companies have a current need. This applies both in the maritime area and among wind turbine owners.”

Talent 100 and NASA
Following a nomination from Lars Vesth and FORCE Technology, Rune Yding Brogaard has been honoured by being included in the Danish daily Berlingske’s Talent 100 List of young talents with the ability and will to reach the top of the Danish corporate sector.  

At the same time, NASA has spotted the world-class work performed by Rune and his colleagues in the ‘Inspectrone’ project. This has resulted in an invitation to the young researcher to do a spell in their Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is behind the Mars robots. 

This is an opportunity that is only offered to very few non-Americans, and which clearly demonstrates the outstanding Danish research competences in the development of autonomous drones.