Artificial Intelligence Meets Offshore Energy

A consortium of five UK universities, working with 31 industrial and innovation partners, will deploy up to GBP 36 million of support to advance robotics and Artificial Intelligence technologies for the inspection, repair, maintenance and certification of offshore energy platforms and assets.

The Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, a partnership between Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh, will lead a consortium that includes Imperial College London, the University of Oxford and the University of Liverpool.

The five institutions will work collaboratively under the title of the ‘Offshore Robotics for Certification of Assets’ or ‘ORCA Hub’ to develop robotics and AI technologies for use in extreme and unpredictable environments.

The ORCA Hub will create robot-assisted asset inspection and maintenance technologies that are capable of making autonomous and semi-autonomous decisions and interventions across aerial, topside and marine domains, the researchers 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 aging as the new generation of qualified graduates seek less hazardous onshore opportunities,” Professor David Lane from Heriot-Watt University and the director of the ORCA Hub said.

“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. The ORCA Hub’s activities are therefore designed to lead advancement in key robotics and A.I. technologies that will create a step change in the current practices of offshore inspection, repair and maintenance. Ours will be the largest academic centre in the world for research into offshore asset robotics technology.”

Over GBP 14.3m of funding will come from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) with up to GBP 18m from 31 industry partners. The university consortium will contribute a further GBP 3.6m.

Professor Sethu Vijayakumar from the University of Edinburgh and Deputy Director of the ORCA Hub said: “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.”