(Autonomous) Robotics, AI and Cloud Systems Shaping New Offshore Survey and Inspection Industry

Amid the global energy transition, offshore survey and inspection companies are working on decarbonising – but the industry is also going through a transition of its own. Bureau Veritas,  Terradepth and Sulmara are among a number of offshore survey companies that are increasingly using autonomous or remotely operated robotics, cloud systems and artificial intelligence (AI) to deliver projects faster, cheaper and in a more environmentally friendly way.

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“If you look at the traditional way subsea geophysical data is collected, it hasn’t pivoted very much in the last 50 years. Sailing a ship out into the ocean and towing a sensor. It is a very expensive approach, it is not very nimble. On top of that, there is also the matter of safety, the impact on marine mammals and other environmental factors,” Kris Rydberg, Chief Operating Officer at Terradepth said in an interview with offshoreWIND.biz.

Cue remote/autonomous survey and inspection vehicles and cloud-based data – all of which are at the forefront of services offered to the offshore wind industry by the US-headquartered Terradepth, the UK company Sulmara, and the France-based global testing, inspection, certification, and advisory services organisation Bureau Veritas.

What all three companies emphasised as game changers are the faster processing and delivery of data and the ability to perform continuous or regular surveys where that would typically be a costly and time-consuming endeavour.

With the addition of AI, the companies are further streamlining operations, primarily using the technology for target recognition and data processing.

Bureau Veritas: From Remote Marine Vessel Inspection to Offshore Wind

“Drone technology and artificial intelligence (AI) are developing at a mind-blowing pace. The use of remote surveys and inspections will become more and more commonplace,” Hiram Mechling, Vice President of Offshore Wind at Bureau Veritas North America, said in an interview with offshoreWIND.biz.

Bureau Veritas is leveraging its experience in surveys of ships, where the company is using its Augmented Surveyor tool to detect corrosion within empty ballast tanks.

The tool, which combines an aerial drone with AI, can be employed in the offshore wind industry as well to inspect offshore wind farm components, from wind turbines to offshore substations, according to the company.

Using AI models, the Augmented Surveyor pattern-recognition software automatically detects structural defects and then maps those detected anomalies in the 3D cloud model with associated photos.

Hiram Mechling, Bureau Veritas North America

“This technology is coming out of the marine industry where we have been developing the tool which allows doing a survey without sending a person inside the ballast tank, where they are exposed to risks while performing the inspection. It is an advantage from a safety point of view, as well as the financial as traditional methods can be seriously time-consuming and costly,” Hiram Mechling said.

The software can be launched in real-time during the survey or after processing and can speed up the process of identifying areas that need repair since it automatically detects anomalies.

Mechling also pointed out that the Augmented Surveyor software is easy to use, where the user opens a model to view the points where the AI detected defects and then clicks to get the information such as the location and the images.

In offshore wind, the tool can be adapted to inspect various components, including foundations.

“We want to expand the capabilities of the software to detect cracks. For instance, just as it can measure the thickness of the wall of the ballast tanks, it can be deployed inside a monopile. Here, it could measure what the actual thickness is with corrosion, detect all the different anodes and how many there are within an enclosed space, and even the depletion of those particular anodes,” Bureau Veritas’ Hiram Mechling said.

Terradepth: ‘Constantly Changing Underwater World Requires a Recurring Approach to Data’

“The world changes and so does the landscape underneath the oceans – and in some places, it is changing dramatically. On the west coast of California, as an example, there are a lot of tectonic plates shifting and a lot of runoff and drainage into the ocean from surface land. Relying on a data set that was captured one time can impact a project since the developer is not getting that data over time,” Kris Rydberg, Chief Operating Officer (COO) at Terradepth.

From identifying an offshore wind site to the design and construction phases, and all the way through to operations and maintenance could take several years. Working off one data set that was captured several years ago, as it is with the traditional survey methods as they are expensive, can bring many unknowns, according to Terradepth.

The US company, which recently carried out a project for Italian transmission system operator (TSO) Terna and is eyeing the European offshore wind market, has developed an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) that can be easily deployed and retrieved.

READ MORE: Italian TSO puts submarine drone for seabed surveys to test

Terradepth’s system also allows for near-real-time data access and processing. Once the battery-powered AUV returns to the vessel it was deployed off to recharge, the company’s remote processors can log in directly to the ship via Starlink. Once the data is processed, they can upload the information in the cloud so the end customer can access it either through their self-hosted platform, or AWS or Google Cloud.

Kris Rydberg, Terradepth

The company’s COO highlighted the efficiency of having this setup, especially with using a smaller and less intrusive AUV, in opting for regular surveys to always have the most recent data.

“What Terradepth focuses on is bringing in new technology and doing that from a vertical integration approach. Our aim is to drive the data acquisition cost down to the point where the frequency and the number of surveys can increase without additional project costs so nobody works off an old data set. With higher intervals of offshore surveys, developers can start capturing that change data as well,” Rydberg said.

Terradepth’s AUV is lightweight and, being battery-powered, environmentally friendly, according to the company. The AUV has the ability to auto-detect any objects that may interfere with its path and if it does come across something of that kind, it defaults to floating back up again instead of continuing its underwater journey.

Still, the difference the US company is trying to bring to the offshore wind market is not just having an AUV but the full vertical solution, Rydberg pointed out, saying that the other part of this solution is the company’s purpose-built cloud data platform Absolute Ocean that uses visualized data sets and is built to be as intuitive as possible.

READ MORE: Oceaneering looking to enhance its ocean data capabilities with new technology

Sulmara Growing USV Fleet; Some Tasks Still Require Vessels and Human Intervention

The UK headquartered company Sulmara has already been involved in several offshore wind projects and recently chartered the emergency response rescue vessel (ERRV) Ocean Marlin which the company will refit to add survey equipment, a subsea crane with active heave compensation, and extra bed space.

Sulmara, which also operates uncrewed subsea vehicles (USV), plans to grow its USV fleet as the geophysical survey market is growing with more offshore wind projects worldwide. For the UK offshore survey specialist, the transition to USVs and similar technology still includes using survey vessels since some projects currently go beyond the capabilities of a USV.

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“If we are talking about a transition from a conventional vessel to a USV, what we find is that once a higher complexity of tasks presents, human intervention and/or a typical survey vessel are, for the time being, still required. However, while USVs currently do not have the capacity to do all the types of tasks that a conventional vessel might – such as cable route preparation– Sulmara is concentrating primarily on conducting survey operations from a USV platform, mainly geophysical surveys,” Andy Doggett, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Sulmara, said in an interview with offshoreWIND.biz.

READ MORE: Rescue vessel to undergo makeover to get ready for renewables

The company currently has USVs deployed in Taiwan, where it plans to have a more advanced platform by the end of the year.

Sulmara also has upcoming projects in Europe and is currently operating in the US as well. According to Doggett, the company is growing its fleet both in terms of the numbers, geographical location, and in terms of advanced capability of the USV – and is also working on an AUV.

For Sulmara too, lowering the carbon footprint and allowing for easy and fast collection and delivery of data are on the top of the list for adding robotic, and cloud, capabilities to its offering.

Andy Doggett, Sulmara

Here, Andy Doggett highlighted that the quality of data was paramount and that the company, which is also using cloud processing, was focused on ensuring the processing was sophisticated enough to deliver the highest quality data.

“From a real-time data delivery point of view, we are also developing a portal which will allow real-time access to vessel activities of both crewed and uncrewed vessels. Through the portal, a user – either Sulmara personnel or the client’s team – will be able to see the live progress of a vessel, including some of the data. They can also see the metocean data, the weather, survey progress in percentage, etc.,” Sulmara’s Andy Doggett said.

Speaking about the use of AI at Sulmara, Doggett said that the company was also employing AI where the technology can assist while keeping the quality of data in check.

“Using AI falls within our ambition to reduce the time from the data acquisition to delivery. First, we make sure we have got the best quality data offshore and then we upload it to the cloud – and once data is there, we use AI to reduce processing time,” Andy Doggett said.

“We are employing AI for target identification in particular because we need to get certain information into our clients’ hands as fast as possible. If we are doing a UXO survey at an offshore wind farm and there are many targets, one of the most time-consuming activities is verifying those targets and using an AI model can do, at least the preliminary work, much quicker.”


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