Robotics/unmanned systems

Ocean Infinity Ramps Up Autonomous Vessel Operations

New contracts, a joint venture, and a merger are pushing the company's robotic vessel fleet further into the mainstream of both hydrocarbons and renewable energy inspection services.

A rendering of Ocean Infinity's Armada fleet of robotic ships.
Source: Ocean Infinity

Ocean Infinity is expanding its Armada fleet of autonomous surface vessels to 17 robotic ships over the next 2 years via a newbuild program with ship builder VARD and a recent contract for the supply of mooring and rescue boats with Palfinger. The additional vessels, to measure 78 m long and 15 m wide each, will support Ocean Infinity’s global marine operations. The new robotic ships will be built at VARD’s Vung Tau shipyard in Vietnam. Deliveries of the vessels are due in the period from mid-2022 to end-2023.

The Palfinger contract is just the latest in a string of awards required to make the Armada fleet a reality. The maritime robotics player previously signed a deal with Kongsberg to install ROV launch and recovery systems on its Armada fleet vessels.

Ocean Infinity also recently struck a deal with geotechnical drilling experts Gregg Drilling, a subsidiary of Alaska Native Corporation Sealaska, to provide geotechnical services to offshore markets in traditional and renewable energy field developments and cables. The joint venture will combine Gregg Drilling’s seabed drills with the Armada fleet of uncrewed and optionally crewed vessels. The venture is aimed at enabling more sustainable underwater development, including geotechnical data collection, needed to support offshore wind anchor and foundation design.

“Partnering with Gregg Drilling to further expand the capabilities of our Armada fleet of vessels will enable us to provide full-service solutions to customers spanning geophysical and geotechnical tasks,” said Oliver Plunkett, Ocean Infinity chief executive.

Just weeks prior to the Gregg Drilling venture, Ocean Infinity purchased survey vessel contractor MMT for an undisclosed sum. The deal brings together MMT’s expertise and track record in the marine survey and data analytics markets and Ocean Infinity’s robotics technology.

The combined force will be focused on maximizing the potential of Ocean Infinity’s fleet of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), and the soon to be launched Armada fleet of uncrewed, low-emission, robotic ships. MMT will continue to operate under the MMT brand. The combined group will have a headcount of over 300 people and will operate from an expanded geographical footprint with offices in the US, Sweden, UK, Singapore, and Norway.

Ocean Infinity also is developing an autonomous offshore wind farm inspection service utilizing aerial drone swarms deployed from its Armada vessels. The service is being offered in partnership with the University of Portsmouth, Airborne Robotics, and Bentley Telecom.

Using 5G and satellite connectivity, the project will see a swarm of drones autonomously inspect wind turbines, subsequently removing the need for manual, human inspection. A 36-m Armada uncrewed robotic vessel will act as the host vessel for the aerial drones, facilitating launch and recovery, recharge, and data download and transmission to shore via satellite.

The project, Drone Swarm for Unmanned Inspection of Wind Turbines (Dr-SUIT) is being funded by the Future Flight Challenge program from UK Research and Innovation and the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

The £1.67 million project will culminate in a system demonstration in 2022.