ROV services firm wins support for the development of pioneering subsea-modelling project .
Despite the extensive array of subsea imaging techniques, there is always demand for greater detail, improved resolution and more flexibility –at a lower cost. Pairing these new techniques with the capabilities of ROVs can be particularly advantageous.
This is what UK-based ROV services company Rovco set out to do when it was launched in Septenber 2016. The company provides ROV support to oil and gas, renewables and other industries, including hydrographic surveys, metocean and environmental surveys, using techniques such as Terrestrial Laser Scanning (TLS) and digital modelling.
However, its newest and most interesting offering is set to bring the process of 3D photogrammetry, also known as image-based modelling (IBM), to the subsea industry. This involves using high-resolution photos of a static object or site area taken from multiple angles and processed to generate a 3D vector model from point cloud data. Doing so allows the system to recreate models of any size or area with very high accuracy, precision and detail, as well as in true colour. Although IBM has been used in a number of other applications – architecture and archaeology being fields of early uptake – it has so far seen less interest from the subsea industry. Because measurements are taken throughout the collection process, surveyors are able to constrain the model to real-world dimensions. This feature allows a number of additional metrics such as distance measurements between structure points, surface area and volume calculations, the ability to overlay CAD drawings or other survey data and the ability to compare past and present models to determine areas of change.
Rovco chief executive and founder Brian Allen told InnovOil that the firm had done side-by-side studies of TLS and 3D photogrammetry, and that if calibrated correctly, the latter could be as accurate as TLS, while remaining more cost effective. Even complex shapes, such as chain moorings, can be rendered with very high accuracy, he added. The technique is particularly useful when assessing the structural integrity and condition of small or medium-sized pieces of equipment. Unlike an ROV survey, where engineers must pore over many hours of video footage and compare low-resolution images over several surveys, 3D photogrammetry is capable of capturing minute changes. Millimetre movements in equipment such as a subsea valves for example, can be identified and tracked over time using multiple surveys and models, greatly enhancing the quality of data available to asset managers. Current surveys are conducted via a custom camera set up twinned with a survey-class SubAtlantic Mojave ROV.
While many applications exist for such modelling, Rovco expects that its clients will typically use it for evaluating their subsea assets for damage, corrosion or determining levels of marine growth. Once developed into a turnkey inspection system, the technology’s developers believe it has the potential to revolutionise the way energy companies manage and inspect their subsea assets, potentially saving hundreds of millions of pounds in subsea inspection costs each year. In December 2016 the company secured funding from Innovate UK as part of the department’s Robotics and Autonomous Systems competition. This backing will allow it to carry out extensive research and development, conduct a full feasibility study of the 3D modelling technique, and take it to the point of being useful as part of a commercial survey.
This phase will be 70% supported by Innovate UK and 30% funded by Rovco, and will take place over the next six months. Allen told InnovOil that this would involve feasibility studies and industrial research, with a view to determining whether the industry is ready to adopt the technology. In a statement, Allen commented: “The feasibility study will allow us to begin the process of further developing our underwater modelling systems which can be deployed by ROVs or AUVs. As the subsea industry enters this new norm of a lower, for longer, oil price, the need for innovative, cost-reducing solutions that provide more meaningful data increases. At the same time vessel size and staff numbers can be reduced, thereby saving costs and lowering associated risks.”
The company will then be seeking further equity investment of around GBP1 million (US$1.2 million) in Q2 2017 as it looks to engage with subsea companies, software developers and universities to become partners in the venture. So far, feedback from the subsea industry for this combined service and hardware package has been “extremely positive.” With the offer of cheaper surveys at a lower cost, Rovco is rightfully optimistic that its technology can have a major impact, and that even the notoriously risk-averse oil and gas industry may be able to accept a bold new survey method.