A progress update from Norwegian robotics firm Eelume on its snake-like underwater robot for IMR
Valentine’s Day is typically an opportunity to celebrate love and romance. For Trondheim-based Eelume, it was an opportunity to show off the development of its robotic sea snakes.
The firm gained worldwide attention last year – not least in InnovOil itself – on the back of an agreement with Statoil and: Featureing Kongsberg Maritime to develop the subsea concept. A new video, which was released on February 14, shows how far the firm has come in the interim.
Although eerie, the robotic system could prove to be revolutionary in subsea operations, providing permanent remote maintenance and monitoring at oil and gas and renewables sites. Aimed at the subsea inspection, maintenance and repair (IMR) market, the concept is based on a self-propelled robotic arm. Comprised of modular combinations of joints, thrusters and payload modules, the system is designed to travel long distances and carry out IMR in confined spaces currently inaccessible by conventional underwater vehicles. Footage from the announcement last year showed two versions of the system – one powered by tail-mounted thrusters and one propelled by a swimming motion achieved by moving linkages along its length.
Modular improvements The past year seems to have been a flurry of activity. “During the last year we have built the first snake-like vehicle that can dive down to 150m depth, and demonstrated that we are able to conduct inspection,” Eelume CEO Arne Kjørsvik told InnovOil by email.
Certainly, the design has been refined somewhat since its initial incarnation was revealed last year. The resulting system looks far sleeker and sees components housed in a more familiar ROV/AUV-like shell. Gone is the serpentine face, replaced by an altogether friendlier camera, lighting and tool system. “The current version is built up by flexible joints and pressure-hull sections capable of going deeper than the first prototype built by NTNU. The NTNU version was a multi-joint version equipped with a watertight rubber skin that could operate close to surface,” explained Kjørsvik.
Similar refinements appear along the length of the robot. Forward and lateral thruster modules have been added along the body to enable better manoeuvrability, as well as new payloads, such as a camera swivel module. Further payloads could be added at a later date, but Kjørsvik said that the first iterations would be market and customer-driven.
According to Eelume, the robot’s flexibility also allows for some pretty unique working scenarios. “A dual-arm configuration is achieved by mounting tooling in each end and forming the vehicle body into a U-shape,” the company explained. “One end of the arm can grab hold to fixate the vehicle, while the other end can carry out inspection and intervention tasks. One end of the arm can also provide a perspective camera view of a tool operation carried out at the other end.”
All test footage so far has shown the robots connected to the surface via umbilicals. However, the overall goal is to run the vehicle via rechargeable batteries, wireless communication systems and to include an autonomous control system, enabling the vehicle to be “resident” on the seabed, as envisioned in Eelume’s brief.
Of course the system is still in development, leaving plenty of scope for further refinement, but interest from the industry has already been promising. “The response has been overwhelming,” said Kjørsvik. “We have received several requests about the vehicles performance like depth, size, speed, different tool capabilities, different market segments, delivery time, etc.”
“Since we are currently in a development phase we encourage people to follow our website and stay tuned for updates,” he added. Here at InnovOil we certainly will be.