Patent of the Month November

  Picture from the patent specification ©

AI-supported bird protection for wind turbines

It’s a good time for wind turbines, when autumn storms blow in November! However, wind turbines often have to be switched off to protect birds from colliding with the large turbine blades. But can we afford downtimes in the face of climate and energy crises?

Wind farm operators Markus Pubantz and Benjamin Friedle from the “Bürgerwindpark Hohenlohe” have found a solution that brings wildlife protection and clean energy production from wind turbines (WTGs) together. With the help of an intelligent camera system, the wind turbines are able to detect birds as they approach and to switch themselves off. The invention, which was patented in 2018, is called "Device and method for monitoring flying animals by combining a deep learning network with intelligent tracking” (DE102018008694A1) – our patent of the Month November!

For bird protection, wind farms must fulfil corresponding requirements. For example, wind turbines must be switched off during the breeding season of neighbouring bird species that need to be protected.

In the case of Bürgerwindpark Hohenlohe” a citizens' campaign for the protection of a red kite population had filed a lawsuit against the plant. In order to avoid a complete shutdown, the wind farm operators were looking for a technical solution to the problem. Since there were no systems for the specific application on the market yet, the two inventors developed the BirdVision image processing system together with Dr Michal Lewandowski, scientist for artificial intelligence and tracking. This system is able to detect birds and temporarily shut down the wind turbines on approach in order to avoid complete shutdowns.

The system is based on wide-angle cameras that are mounted on the wind turbines at a height of 8 - 10 metres. The cameras detect all approaching objects and follow the flight direction with intelligent tracking. Artificial intelligence classifies the "flying objects" and distinguishes between birds, branches, insects or neighbouring rotor blades. If a bird is detected, the system switches off the wind turbine and, after a certain pause, switches it back on. The AI has been trained with appropriate data and the deep learning database system is continuously being expanded, including through cooperation with developers at other locations. This allowed, for example, the classification to be refined with regard to bird sizes and the camera system to be improved with regard to the detection of night-flying animals such as bats.

In 2019, Markus Pubantz, Benjamin Friedle and Michal Lewandowski founded the company BirdVision GmbH & Co. KG, named after their invention, in order to promote its development and marketing.

The project is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. A marketable product is expected in 2024. The inventors are convinced of their innovation and its economic potential. "If there is a general shutdown, the system will have paid for itself in a very short time," says Pubantz.

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