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Australian startups team up to keep wind turbines humming

Using acoustic sensors and nanosatellite connectivity, two Australian startups hope to identify potential turbine problems before they occur to secure the country’s wind energy

Two Australian startups have teamed up to test the use of acoustic sensors and nanosatellites in a pilot project to keep the country’s wind farm turbines running in tiptop condition.

The internet of things (IoT) sensors, developed by Ping, an offshoot of an acoustic engineering consultancy, will collect acoustic data, which will be uploaded to a nanosatellite through an integrated Myriota radio transmitter before being relayed to Amazon Web Services (AWS) for analysis.

By measuring acoustic signatures to identify turbine problems early so that preventive maintenance can take place before a turbine is damaged or fails, Ping and Myriota are hoping to tackle a $5bn industry problem.

“With many wind farms located in areas with little to no connectivity, our monitoring solution allows companies to easily monitor their assets – regardless of location,” said Alex Grant, cofounder and CEO of Myriota, a nanosatellite connectivity business spun out of the University of Adelaide in 2015.

The field tests would take place at Snowtown wind farm, with plans for the solution to be commercially available at the start of 2019.

The 370MW Snowtown wind farm is Australia’s second largest, and has been constructed in two stages. Located in South Australia, which contributes 40% of the nation’s wind-generated power, Snowtown is a good place to test the technology, Grant said.

Delivering regular updates on the health of the turbines and alleviating the need for local communications links or regular engineering visits, however, have not come at the expense of privacy and security. For one, all sensor data is encrypted, including during transmission, and the locations of turbines are kept private.

“Security in our view is an absolute must have for IoT, whether consumer or industrial,” said Grant. “We bake very strong cryptographic security into our systems and make the communications private and authenticated.”

Cheaper nanosatellites on the cards

Myriota makes use of low earth orbit nanosatellites, which operate 500 to 800km above the earth. At present, it leases capacity from a Canadian satellite company.

The company serves farmers, resource companies, environmental agencies and organisations with remote operations that need to collect data from sensors, but it cannot justify the cost of continual connectivity for each of their sensors or locations.

That could change by the time Myriota launches its own nanosatellites in 2019, when each satellite could weigh about 5kg and cost $1m to build and launch, with a typical lifespan of five years, according to Grant.

With just one or two nanosatellites, which orbit the earth every 1.5 hours, it would be possible then to collect and relay data regularly from remote sensors for analysis, he added.

Earlier this year, Myriota secured $15m in Series A funding, which included investments by several Australian and international venture capital firms and the first non-US investment by Boeing HorizonX Ventures.

Read more about IoT in Australia

Read more on Internet of Things (IoT)

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