Onshore/Offshore Facilities

Autonomous Inspection Drone Ready for Offshore Operations

Ocean services provider DeepOcean has mobilized its first autonomous inspection drone and plans to conduct offshore trials for an operator on the Norwegian continental shelf.

Source: DeepOcean

Ocean services provider DeepOcean has mobilized its first autonomous inspection done (AID), which the company says could save costs for operators of offshore wind farms and oil and gas fields.

The AID has been mobilized on board the Edda Fauna subsea inspection, maintenance, and repair (IMR) and remotely operated vehicle (ROV) support vessel. DeepOcean plans to conduct offshore trials for using the AID under one of DeepOcean’s annual inspection campaigns for an operator on the Norwegian continental shelf.

“A rapidly growing amount of subsea infrastructure is placed on the seabed within both the offshore renewables and oil and gas industries. This equipment needs to be inspected regularly. We have developed the AID to increase efficiency and accuracy when collecting inspection data,” said Craig Cameron, technology manager at DeepOcean. “It has the potential to substantially reduce the cost, time, and environmental footprint that is normally associated with subsea inspection work.”

Today, subsea infrastructure is typically inspected by ROVs that are launched from multipurpose vessels and controlled by ROV operators on board. Some companies, such as DeepOcean, have developed remote operations capabilities that allow the company to control the ROV from an onshore-based remote operations center (ROC), thereby reducing operating costs; emissions; and health, safety, and environmental risk.

Automation of parts of the subsea inspection scope, using an AID, is lining up to be the next step for the offshore industry. Examples of inspection scopes that are likely to be automated in the near future include external and internal production templates, jacket structures, and flexible risers.

In the offshore renewables sector, automation is even more attractive for regular inspection of subsea structures because hundreds of similar structures are installed on a single field development with very similar inspection requirements.

“The AID can perform preprogrammed inspections of all subsea assets,” Camerson said. “This means that significant value can be created for operators of offshore energy assets when the same inspection scope can be repeated year on year.”

Digital Twins
A key enabler for the ability to perform programmed, autonomous inspection work is the creation of digital twins of subsea infrastructure.

DeepOcean has developed a digital twin platform where a model of an AID is controlled. This technology allows inspection engineers to plan and simulate the route for the inspection scope virtually. The inspection plan is then exported to the AID from the ROC.

Subsequently, the AID can execute the planned route autonomously while an operator simultaneously oversees the operation from the ROC. The inspection data from the AID and the position of the vehicle are streamed back into the digital twin continuously to ensure high data quality and increase situational awareness for the operator.

The AID project is a strategic partnership between DeepOcean, Argus Remote Systems, and Vaarst, where a system of systems has been developed with industry guidance, support, and funding from AkerBP to bring a platform to market.

The first AID was recently mobilized onboard the Edda Fauna subsea IMR and ROV support vessel, which is on long-term charter to DeepOcean.

Remota, the joint venture between DeepOcean, Solstad Offshore, and Østensjø Group, is enabling offshore operations to be performed from onshore through digitalized control systems. DeepOcean is running the AID from the Remota control center.

The AID is based on a Rover MK2 ROV from Argus Remote Systems, with upgraded hardware and software packages. Argus is responsible for the AID platform and navigation algorithm. DeepOcean is responsible for the digital twin platform, mission planner software, and the live view of the AID in operation, while Vaarst is responsible for the machine vision camera for autonomous navigation and data collection.

The AID is 1.25×0.85×0.77 m and weighs 320 kg in air and can operate in water depths down to 3000 m.

The inertial navigation system selected from Sonardyne is the Sprint Navigator mini 4K. Live imaging sonar with obstacle tracking and avoidance is from the Norbit WBMS FLS.

“We look forward to proving that the AID allows autonomous surveys to be carried out, enabling us to collect data in a smarter way and gain better support for comparisons and changes over time on subsea equipment,” Cameron said. “Irrespective of the AID launch platform, we believe that the combination of AID and digital twins for subsea inspection work can save operators of offshore assets a substantial amount of time and money.”