In the UK an underwater survey robot has successfully completed its first set of trials for underwater nuclear inspection applications. The robot was developed in a collaborative venture between a number of British companies and institutions, namely Rovco (the project lead), D-RiskQ, Forth Engineering, the National Oceanography Centre, Thales UK and the University of Manchester.
The trials, known as ‘Drop One’, were hosted by Forth Engineering in Cumbria in north-west England. This project forms part of the Autonomous Aquatic Inspection and Intervention (A2I2) research and development programme. A2I2 is supported by Britain’s innovation agency, Innovate UK, through the Industrial Strategy Research Fund.
The demonstrations are focused on offshore core drilling, surveys of wet nuclear materials in storage ponds, and what were described as “interactions”. The next phase of the trials, known as ‘Drop Two’, will take place early next year. The project is on track for completion this coming March.
“Underwater robots are increasingly utilised for commercial and scientific applications to make measurements and interact with underwater assets and the environment,” pointed out Forth programme manager Peter Routledge. “The project’s goal is to develop underwater autonomous vehicles that can improve safety and reduce the challenges of operating in hazardous environments.”
The different organisations involved in the project have contributed different technologies to the underwater robot. Rovco has provided three-dimensional artificial perception technologies as well as an intelligent data collection system. D-RiskQ contributed “high integrity, autonomous decision making, safety-critical software” for the demonstrator. The University of Manchester is working on underwater wireless communications, which will allow underwater robots to dispense with cables, allowing them to manoeuvre more freely in hazardous situations.
Forth itself specialises particularly in underwater remotely-operated vehicles (ROVs) but also provides other high-technology services and solutions. In addition to hosting the trials, Forth fitted the demonstrator with a sonar system to allow it to detect and avoid underwater obstacles. It also supplied the ‘enabling technology’ for the ROV, including its launch and recovery system, its recharging system and a high bandwidth communication system.