Underwater Drones: Latest Developments in the Industrial Inspection Robots Technology

29 Jun 2022

Advanced technologies such as robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) are associated with high performance and minimum errors. They have various applications in the industrial sector. 

Along with the operations and management activities, robots provide substantial support in inspection and maintenance activities. 

Several advanced tech-based organizations are developing inspection and maintenance robots for enhanced safety, improved accuracy, long-hour services, and flexibility.

In recent developments, underwater inspection robots have taken a substantial leap in technological advancements. They are useful in various industries such as military, commercial and scienti?c applications, deep-sea exploration for natural resources, such as oil, gas, and metals, pipeline repair, shipwreck investigation, surveys, oceanographic sampling, and underwater archaeology.


On 31st May 2022, researchers from the Offshore Robotics for Certification of Assets (ORCA) Hub teamed with the sustainable energy generation firm EDF Renewables in the U.S. to use a modified remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to conduct the first autonomous underwater inspection of its Blyth Offshore Wind Farm.

The ROV is equipped and operated by scientists in the ORCA Hub. This partnership is a strategic initiative within the National Robotarium, and it is being funded by the U.K.’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The ROV was modified to include robotic technologies to develop autonomous inspection robots, and it conducted visual inspections of the gravity-based foundations of three offshore turbines over four days.

According to Sen Wang, the lead of robotics and autonomous systems at the National Robotarium, this trial aims to demonstrate the enormous potential for underwater robots to autonomously conduct the inspection and maintain offshore wind turbines while reducing the need and the associated risks of putting technicians into challenging and hazardous environments. 

The inspections were initiated to investigate a wide range of applications for drone technology to assess offshore wind turbines. The trials successfully demonstrated the drone’s advantages in working autonomously at remote sites as it recorded videos to assess the exterior conditions of turbine foundations and cables. 


A 3D model was created using the drone, which will be used to monitor underwater assets such as biofouling and the accumulation of microorganisms, algae, and plants on the foundations.

Equipping the ROV with sensors and robot autonomy software developed by the ORCA Hub can help capture high-quality videos and build an extremely accurate 3D model of the turbine foundations, which can provide crucial information more efficiently to the companies working in the clean energy sector.

However, further tests are required to estimate the time required to inspect all the turbine foundations and demonstrate the full potential of marine robotic technology. 

Applications of Underwater Robots for Industrial Inspection and Maintenance Purposes

Inspections and maintenance are crucial for operations in the industries. Regular surveillance helps ensure safe equipment performance, employees’ safety, and efficient manufacturing in several industries.

The underwater robots aid in crucial scienti?c research, surveys, inspection, and commercial and military purposes. They help in relieving the burden on human operators and improve performance efficiency. 

The advanced robotics technologies enhance the sampling and other intervention methods and make them more feasible. These robotic vehicles are not meant to replace human divers or human-occupied vehicles but to build a new generation of subsea equipment that can work without intervention by drill ships or other heavy-lifting vessels.

The underwater inspection robots and drones have significantly impacted the offshore oil and gas industry. Major aspects of operations such as inspection and maintenance of platforms, pipelines, and subsea production facilities have become highly efficient and easy. As the demand for oil and gas increases, the application of this technology is only going to increase. 

The industrial inspection robots are now equipped with advanced devices for sampling animals, microbes, caustic hydrothermal vent ?uids, and different rock samples. Moreover, they are also used to operate sea?oor experiments that involve dif?cult tasks such as drilling and delicate placement of instruments.

Conclusion

Industrial inspection robots can autonomously execute inspection tasks with high efficiency. The traditional inspection tasks performed by laborers, such as cleaning, inspection, and maintenance of equipment, involve several health and safety risks. Thus, to avoid these risks, the usage of remotely operated and autonomous inspection robots has increased. 

Many of these automated inspection systems use AI technology. With the help of deep learning technology, a system can use the collected data to identify the damage during its application. Robots can also use AI technology to navigate industrial facilities and avoid obstacles.

According to an analysis by BIS Research, the global inspection and maintenance robot market is growing significantly due to its proven advantages, such as improved product quality, enhanced quality assurance, and quality control for several industrial applications such as line manufacturing and non-destructive inspection. 

Robotics technology helps the market players to decrease the financial cost of inspections by reducing downtime and maximizing operational efficiency. The integration of technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and AI with robotics optimizes inspection and maintenance operations, and this integration is anticipated to propel the global market demand for inspection and maintenance robots.

 
 

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