Interview of Kostas Karachalios
Chief Executive Officer of Perceptual Robotics
It must be one of the less likely fields one would expect Greece to innovate. The construction of wind farms has for a long time been objected and delayed in the country. Things have changed lately and Greece shows potential of not only introducing wind turbine technology but also producing it
Wind turbine installations, both onshore and offshore, are growing year on year to achieve net zero carbon emissions and reduce reliance on the traditional power plants. New turbines are increasing their generating capacity, which means they are also increasing in size to capture more wind energy. This is pushing the limits of material engineering to produce energy more efficiently and compete with other energy production methods.
The task of inspecting and maintaining these structures is becoming increasingly challenging, and there is a clear need for faster, safer inspections that produce high quality data in order to drive the preventative maintenance and reduce the requirement for technicians to attend turbines. That is where Perceptual Robotics comes in.
Perceptual Robotics was founded in 2016 by Dimitris Nikolaidis, Kevin Driscoll-Lind and Kostas Karachalios, out of the University of Bristol. At the time we were recent graduates from the Mechanical Engineering department and were supported by the Bristol Robotics Laboratory Incubator.
It was in this creative environment they created their first product: Dhalion, a pioneering autonomous system using drones and artificial intelligence to inspect wind turbines.
From Athens to Bristol and back
Kostas Karachalios grew up and went to school in Athens before applying to study mechanical engineering at UK’s University of Bristol for its academic excellence and aviation history. He had worked in the renewables energy sector but it was during his time at university he realised his interest in robotics. He decided to combine the two during his masters’ project with Dimitris and Kevin and they launched Perceptual Robotics shortly after.
“It was a natural progression, and a start-up needs a whole ecosystem that can support it throughout its life,” Kostas tells Greek Business File. “This includes academic research, open-source communities, business support and mentoring schemes, government sponsorships to give space to the first steps of ideas, and investors to help turn a prototype into an application with real impact. Bristol has an exciting and unique combination of these factors, combined with brilliant, driven people that can support innovative product development.”
Within three years from its launch, Perceptual Robotics had expanded to its second base.
“We opened our subsidiary in Athens in 2019, expanding our team and capacity to deliver for our customers across Europe and are now recruiting system and sales engineers to join us. Perceptual Robotics is very much a European company as much as a British one, and with renewable energy a focus globally, it made absolute sense to us to utilize our key connections and background in Greece to establish a base there.”
We asked if Greece is a “friendly” country for the development of such companies.
“Greece will always be a focus of mine and Perceptual Robotics, not least because I grew up in Athens,” Kostas says. “It was natural for us to want to have a base here to take advantage of everything the country and people can bring to the business as we continue to develop and expand globally. Greece has given us a layer of experience and innovation we can’t find elsewhere, while also allowing us to have a very necessary European outlet. With everything Greece has, there really wasn’t an alternative for us. Our immediate next step is to bring our technology to offshore wind turbines, combining our system with autonomous and manned boats, to deal with even more challenging weather conditions. Our vision is to keep creating and delivering intelligent automation for a wide range of assets, with more in-depth insights that contribute to a more sustainable future.”
Robots protecting engineers
Perceptual Robotics notes that robotic systems are ideally suited for repetitive dangerous tasks that, until now, have put engineers at risk.
“Dhalion’s basic principle is the complete automation of the wind turbines inspection process. With the use of a tablet device the operator commands the drone to take off, and the drone records images of the entire wind turbine automatically,” Kostas explains. “After landing, a cloud-based artificial intelligence system processes the images to detect any damages. Perceptual Robotics combines robotics and AI in harsh and dangerous environments, such as the North Sea. The system is one of the first examples of how multiple autonomous systems can collaborate to effectively perform a complex task in a harsh environment that would not only be dangerous but labour intensive, expensive, time consuming and error prone. We are also developing technology that will allow us to take this further by creating an aerial drone to automatically take off, land and refuel (exchange batteries) on a small boat in the middle of the North Sea without any human intervention.”
The article is published in the January/ February issue of Greek Business File, part of the cover story on the autonomous production methods powered by robots. GBF presents the global trends in the robotics markets, the level of robotic process automation in Greek enterprises, the pioneers of the sector in Greece and the Greek companies that have emerged as Industrial Robot Companies. The January / February issue of Greek Business File is available here.