W.hat distinguishes a red kite from a cloud? From bees, aircraft or the tip of a rotor blade? The question is not as banal as it sounds. Not if Artificial Intelligence is supposed to answer them. And if the correct distinction depends on whether the red kite, while hunting, is looking at the ground, is hit by a wind turbine, or whether that happens: cameras detect the bird hundreds of meters away, the machine switches off, the rotor blades spin down, the animal glides past unscathed.
“Event-related shutdown”. This is the name of the idea that conservationists and wind farm operators alike hope for. Radar and, above all, camera systems should prevent animals and wind turbines from colliding. They are used internationally, especially in the USA, France and Spain. Various manufacturers are testing the technology in Germany. The expectations are high. In addition to protecting the animals, it is also a matter of gaining areas for wind power that were previously excluded across the board.
In Baden-Württemberg, the Hohenlohe community wind farm received approval in the summer to test its in-house BirdVision project in real operation after the camera system on eight systems showed promising results. Six industrial cameras each hang in a ring on the tower of the wind turbines and, with their wide-angle lenses, cover a field of view of 360 degrees. In flat terrain they hang about six meters above the ground. If the wind farm is on the edge of the forest or in hilly terrain, it can be 30 meters. They detect objects in a radius of around 250 meters. But so that they don’t paralyze the wind farm when a bee buzzes in front of their lens, they need a brain: a deep learning network, a neural artificial intelligence.
Less revenue with every shutdown
“The image processing program recognizes whether it is a bird in three to five seconds,” says Benjamin Friedle. He works on BirdVision at the community wind farm and assures that misinterpretations almost no longer occur. Two years ago the false positive rate was twelve percent. The red kite may not care, but not the wind farm operator. Every shutdown means: less income. The server, which is located in the tower at the interface between the cameras and the system control, now reliably calculates whether it is a bird or not. It takes about half a minute, then the rotor blades spin so slowly that the animals no longer face any significant danger.
But are wind turbines the shredding machines that some critics consider them to be? Nobody really knows. The Brandenburg bird sanctuary maintains a database – griffon vulture, buzzard and red kite are among the top victims across Europe – but most of the animals are found by chance. Systematic studies are rare. The area alone is huge, the scientists, often in dense vegetation, have to search for dead animals.
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