With a growing number of wind energy developments proposed for Louisiana, and with companies in the state having had a hand in the creation of the first commercial offshore wind farm in the United States, University of New Orleans researchers want to ensure there is a trained labor force for the burgeoning market.
University of New Orleans chemistry professor Matt Tarr has received a nearly $285,000 grant from the Louisiana Board of Regents to create mixed reality training tools for wind turbine inspection and repair.
“The tools we are creating will be used for training offshore wind turbine technicians,” Tarr said. “The project will aid in workforce development and improved training programs to support the developing offshore wind industry in Louisiana.”
U.S. wind electricity generation has grown from 0.1% of total electric generation in 1990 to 380 billion kilowatt-hours, over 9% of total utility-scale electric generation, Tarr said. Wind energy represents a growth sector and Louisiana is well positioned to develop the sector, he said.
The first commercial offshore wind farm in Block Island, Rhode Island was made possible by Louisiana companies, including those performing vessel manufacturing, blade testing and design, lift boat design and engineering, and others, Tarr said.
Despite these assets in Louisiana, the design, manufacturing and repair of large-scale blades for offshore turbines face numerous technical challenges. New tools are needed to develop and evaluate manufacturing and repair processes as well as to train workers in these areas, Tarr said.
“This project will create extended reality tools that will allow more rapid manufacturing design and testing, more efficient training of workers, and more reliable in-field repairs for blades and other wind turbine components,” Tarr said. “The extended reality training technology developed in this project will not only provide direct support for the growing offshore wind industry, but it will also create business and job opportunities for other advanced manufacturing sectors and the extended reality training industry.”
Extended reality encompasses virtual and mixed reality tools, which utilize video imagery in a headset or glasses that provide a realistic, immersive environment, Tarr said. Mixed reality is a blend of the real world with virtual objects.
“We will use mixed reality to provide training scenarios that are realistic and utilize physical tools, like screwdrivers, while allowing addition of visual elements that don’t exist, such as a view of the ocean from 300 feet above it and damage superimposed on a real turbine blade,” Tarr said.
UNO researchers are working with Louisiana renewables company Gulf Wind Technology and the physical set for developing virtual training will be located at their site in the Avondale Global Gateway, Tarr said.
“We already have the physical elements of the training tool in place and are starting on virtual imagery creation now,” Tarr said. “Top Right Corner, a local virtual reality solutions company, is partnering with us for the virtual components.”