The Autonomous Aquatic Inspection and Intervention, or A2I2, consortium today announced that it has successfully demonstrated an underwater survey robot, which is on schedule for completion in March 2021. The research and development project includes British companies and is supported by Innovate UK under the Industrial Strategy Research Fund.
Rovco Ltd. leads the A2I2 consortium, which is developing technologies for use in offshore wind, nuclear, oil and gas, and other sectors. The partnership aims to improve safety by reducing risks when working in challenging and hazardous environments.
In August, Forth Engineering Ltd. hosted Drop One trials of the autonomous underwater system for nuclear inspection at its headquarters in Cumbria in northwestern England. Drop Two trials are now being planned for the beginning of next year, said the collaborators.
A2I2 a multidisciplinary effort
Forth, Rovco, D-RisQ Ltd., the National Oceanography Centre (NOC), Thales UK, and the University of Manchester have been developing autonomous underwater systems as part of a program that brings together expertise from multiple industries and academia.
Rovco has been supporting each A2I2 work stream with its artificial perception technologies including 3D computer vision, simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM), autonomous path planning, and scene understanding using machine learning. The Bristol-based company, which raised $6.5 million in January, said its Intelligent Data Collection System can be integrated into any subsea vehicle to enhance its capability.
D-RisQ said it brings advanced automated software development tools to safety-critical, security-critical, and business-critical systems developers. The Malvern, U.K.-based company used these tools to develop decision-making software to enable A2I2 autonomous operation for this demonstration in accordance with safety and regulatory requirements.
The University of Manchester is developing wireless underwater communications, which it said will ultimately eliminate the need for a tether, allowing the robots developed in A2I2 to operate more freely in hazardous environments.
Forth Engineering, which has bases at Maryport, Cleator Moor, and Barrow, claimed that it has built a global reputation for working collaboratively to develop cutting-edge solutions for complex industrial challenges.
Forth Engineering demonstrates use cases
“Underwater robots are increasingly utilized for commercial and scientific applications to make measurements and interact with underwater assets and the environment,” said Peter Routledge, program manager at Forth. “The project’s goal is to develop underwater autonomous vehicles that can improve safety and reduce the challenges of operating in hazardous environments.”
The nuclear use case for A2I2 demonstrated how the technology can be used for offshore coring, and wet nuclear storage pond surveys and interactions.
Forth said it has integrated sonar to detect and avoid obstacles underwater, enabling the robots to be used near critical infrastructure. In addition, it developed technologies for launch and recovery, recharging, and high-bandwidth communications for the remotely operated vehicles (ROVs).
The company’s other recent projects include the Friction Stir Welding Robotic Crawler (FSWbot), which it said is the world’s first robot for internal repair and refurbishment of pipelines that can be used by a range of industries without having to stop production.
Forth has also worked with partners on developing the pioneering Hullguard system to protect floating offshore installations from corrosion without using divers. Hullgard has been successfully deployed for the first time in the North Sea.
To fast-track other collaborative systems, Forth is developing its 68,000-sq.-ft. base in Cleator Moor as an innovation hub for products such as FSWbot and A2I2. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the company has developed a disinfecting robot and supplied disinfecting cannons to help a range of organizations welcome back staffers and customers safely. Forth gave up its Cleator Moor office space for free during lockdown to charity Scrub Hub North West, which delivered essential equipment to local hospitals.