Fraunhofer IFAM in Cuxhaven

Innovative maintenance, inspection, and repair of maritime structures through the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)

UAS deployment for the inspection of an offshore wind turbine as part of the AIDA research project
© Fraunhofer IFAM
UAS deployment for the inspection of an offshore wind turbine as part of the AIDA research project

The maritime industry, particularly the offshore sector, plays a crucial role in the generation of renewable energy. However, industrial applications and processes in the maritime environment pose enormous challenges to humans, materials, and technology. For instance, the maintenance and repair of offshore wind turbines (WTGs) require the use of highly complex equipment such as specialized ships or helicopters, and entail significant risks for the personnel involved. Moreover, these processes are also associated with high costs. Innovative and cost-optimized maintenance and repair concepts are therefore more in demand than ever. Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS, also known as drones) offer great potential for this purpose. At the Offshore Drone Campus Cuxhaven (ODCC), Fraunhofer IFAM develops components, systems, and processes for their use in the offshore sector.

Sustainable energy generation with the aid of autonomous systems

In 2022, the Offshore Drone Campus at Steubenhöft Cuxhaven was launched. As a close cooperation between the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, scientific partners and industry, the development and research of drones and their usage concepts for the offshore sector are planned there. The focus of Fraunhofer IFAM is on questions of maintenance and inspection, as well as repair and monitoring of essential maritime structures, including regulatory frameworks. The goals are to achieve cost reduction through autonomous long-term inspections of, for example, offshore wind energy plants, and to increase the sustainability of energy production through the use of electrically-powered flight devices as opposed to manned helicopters with combustion engines.

To achieve these goals, Fraunhofer IFAM in Cuxhaven is working on the following priorities:

System configuration of UAS

  • Mission-dependent configuration of UAS systems to cover individual needs
  • Examination of the possibilities of energy supply by comparing battery systems, combustion engines (fuel hybrid drive), and fuel cells (hydrogen hybrid drive)

Component development

  • Development of fault-tolerant propulsion systems for safe drone maneuvering
  • Development of material protection concepts to protect electrical components and structural components from constant salt exposure, high humidity, and UV radiation
  • Research on the compatibility of end-effectors and sensor systems with offshore UAS

Flight operations and air traffic control

  • Continuous flight monitoring and ensuring flight control through the development of collision avoidance systems, redundant communication and control units, and navigation systems for variable environmental conditions.

Real-world testing of missions and individual components is a crucial building block, with direct missions conducted and monitored on the North Sea through close cooperation with the "Test Center for Maritime Technologies" and the use of the research vessel "Joseph von Fraunhofer." BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) missions are also possible.

Our fields of research and projects


Interreg North Sea Project DIOL

The project focuses on the goal of turning the North Sea into Europe's "green power plant" through the expansion of offshore wind energy.


Innovative maintenance for wind farms

Wind farms will assume a significant share in the mix of renewable energies. Innovative and cost-optimized maintenance and servicing concepts are required for the sustainable operation of wind turbines. Drones will play an important role here in the future. Fraunhofer IFAM develops and validates components, systems, and procedures to realize reliable missions with so-called Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in the offshore sector.


Advanced Air Mobility Initiative Northwest Germany and the German Bay (AAM-NW) & Drone Control Center Bremen

A very important field of research is the shared use of airspace by manned and unmanned aviation.


Mobile robotics in quality assurance

How can drones and mobile robots be used for inspection, maintenance and repairs?


Knowledge-based algorithms in quality assurance

Manual inspection processes for quality assurance are often opposed to an economic optimization of process steps. By using artificial intelligence and machine learning, these hurdles can be overcome and the quality of the end product as well as the production speed can be significantly increased.


Surface evaluation by algorithm

Currently, surfaces are often evaluated by experts on the basis of experience. The respective standards help by listing qualitative criteria, but overall the evaluation remains strongly dependent on the respective expert. In the webinar, we would like to show how we can optimize this subjective, experience-based assessment with a more objective procedure based on algorithms and how this works.


Joint project: AIDA

Autonomous inspection and maintenance of offshore wind turbines by developing a holistic UAS approach.


Lead project TransHyDE

Without a suitable transport infrastructure, the hydrogen economy cannot function. Solutions other than gas pipelines are needed, especially for imports. There are many ideas for this - but it is unclear which solution is suitable for which application and how these are best combined. The lead project TransHyDE is therefore developing, evaluating and demonstrating several technologies for hydrogen transport.

Unmanned aerial vehicle records meteorological measurement data for offshore wind energy

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One pillar for the energy transition is offshore wind energy. When wind farms are built, they influence the wind currents over the sea. For this purpose, meteorological measurement data was collected to investigate changes as well as effects of further wind farm expansion. An application example where the use of an unmanned aerial vehicle provides valuable insights. What sounds simple involves a great deal of know-how, as each flight requires a high level of approval and safety. With the Test Center for Maritime Technologies on Helgoland and extensive flight experience, Fraunhofer IFAM closes this service gap for research and industry.