Inspection robots in the North Sea

Underwater Inspection and Maintenance

Subsea 7 is one of the world’s leading global contractors in seabed-to-surface engineering, construction and services to the offshore industry. Subsea 7 provides technical solutions to enable the delivery of complex projects in all water depths. Life-of-Field is defined as “assurance of asset integrity throughout the operational life cycle, enabled by a suite of services including integrity management, survey, inspection, repair, maintenance and field extension”.

Subsea 7’s “Autonomous Inspection Vehicle (AIV)” is a commercially available underwater robot, part of Life of Field Asset Integrity Maintenance offering to the Oil Companies. The vehicle autonomously inspects risers, manifolds and wellheads in deepwater below FPSO’s (which are special “Floating Production Storage and Offloading” ships used by the offshore oil and gas industry), targeted at applications West of Shetland, off West Africa, Gulf of Mexico in particular.

Autonomous Inspection Vehicle (AIV) – Subsea 7 (Image credit: Heriot-Watt University)

Underwater robot of the Trident FP7 project (Image credit: Heriot-Watt University)

From prototype to commercial application

The success story of Subsea 7’s AIV started with a range of EU funded programmes mainly in the 2000s (ALIVE, SWIMMER, AUTOTRACKER, AMASON). Unlike many other prototypes in EU programmes, AIV was offshore hardened for reliable operations by relatively unskilled operators, rather than the developing researchers. The work was commercialised from Heriot-Watt University creating and licensing to SeeByte Ltd/Inc, a company specialising on smart software for underwater vehicles. The idea was to lessen the demands placed upon operators.

Subsea 7 then invested into hardening and starting a small series production. The AIV (Autonomous Inspection Vehicle) is the first truly autonomous inspection vehicle for the offshore Oil & Gas industry.

Beyond this, current EU projects in FP7 are developing the next generation of autonomous underwater systems that can autonomously interact to turn valves, pick up black boxes, clean anchor chains.



Video: “Black box grasping” on YouTube

Video: “AUV Valve Turning” on YouTube

Check the underwater robots gallery for further images.

Acknowledgments and Contact:
Prof. David M. Lane FREng FRSE
Heriot-Watt University
Edinburgh EH14 4AS
United Kingdom
Phone: +44 (0) 774 064 4094