University-led Research Group to Lead Offshore Robotics

Universities collaborate to develop offshore robotics

Robotics could hold the key to safer and cheaper maintenance, and more sophisticated inspections of equipment.

A research collective of five universities is to spend up to £36 million in developing robotic and AI technologies for use in harsh offshore conditions. The consortium, led by the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, is aiming to develop a number of projects which can perform assistive actions such as inspection and maintenance of offshore platforms.

Last month, DIGIT reported that Scotland’s oil and gas sector was looking at robotics solutions for ongoing maintenance and upkeep. On the 30th October Aberdeen’s Oil & Gas Technology Centre launched the inaugural ‘Robotics Week’, which held workshops and demonstrations of the potential uses for sea, land and air robotics. These tests were conducted in partnership with Edinburgh Centre of Robotics and its new Offshore Robotics for Certification of Assets (ORCA) Hub.

Commenting on Robotics Week, Prof. David Lane, Centre Director for the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics and one of the event keynotes, said: “In many sectors, we’re seeing a significant increase in the use of robots and autonomous systems working with people to improve productivity and efficiency. In the offshore oil and gas industry, I think the use of robotics in hazardous environments is a key growth area.

“The UK has the opportunity and potential to be one of the leading countries in the world in the development of robotics. We have a great research base, which is well invested, and what we’re going to see is new companies and new businesses taking this technology to lots of different markets, including oil and gas, renewables and more.”

This new partnership, composed of Heriot-Watt, Edinburgh, Oxford and Liverpool universities, along with Imperial College London, will work collaboratively with the ORCA Hub to develop AI technologies that can make ‘autonomous and semi-autonomous decisions’ in a range of applications. The collection of universities will invest up to £3.6 million to fund R&D projects in the field.

This new partnership will also receive investment from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, which is giving a further £14.3 million to aid research. Industry partners will also contribute £18 million.

Commenting on the deal, Prof Lane, said: “The international offshore energy industry faces many challenges, including near-permanent low oil prices, expensive decommissioning commitments of old infrastructure, particularly in the North Sea, and small margins on the traded commodity price per KWh of offshore renewable energy.

“Coupled to this, the offshore workforce is ageing as the new generation of qualified graduates seek less hazardous onshore opportunities. The goal is to develop shore-operated autonomous and semi-autonomous solutions for inspection, maintenance and decommissioning of offshore energy infrastructure using marine, terrestrial and airborne robotic systems.”

Prof Sethu Vijayakumar, Orca Hub Deputy Director, added: “The UK’s offshore energy sector is currently worth £40 billion and supports 440,000 jobs as well as having a supply chain of an additional £6 billion in goods and services exports.

“To ensure that the UK’s offshore oil and renewable energy fields remain economically viable, it is essential to develop more productive and agile products and services that UK SMEs, start-ups and the existing supply chain can export internationally.”



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