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ROVs – Advanced Undersea Robotics

July 13, 2010

ROVs History and Future – Part 2

In Part 2 of this series on ROVs we present news from the Gulf on capping the well with an animation of how ROVs positioned the new cap. We also discuss how advanced robotics can be used to prevent future disasters.

News from the Gulf

There’s plenty of oil spill news available on TV, but if you want a more in-depth explanation of what BP is doing they have a YouTube channel that has good video with animations of the ROV and containment activity. Hopefully we’ll see a successful capping of the well in the next few hours.

ROVs Deliver the New Cap

BPplc | July 10, 2010

BP’s Kent Wells uses technical animation to show the step-by-step process of installing the new sealing cap system on the leaking well. The new cap has the potential to contain all of the oil from the well, and to aid future well kill efforts associated with the ongoing relief well operations.

The Future of ROVs

The evolution of machines happens at a vastly faster rate than human evoloution. While Nature does a wondrous job creating and improving lifeforms she does take her time and sometimes is less than efficient in design modifications. Certainly mankind has made its mistakes, the disaster  in the Gulf is only a recent reminder, for others Listverse has a list of The Top 10 Worst Engineering Disasters. And let’s not forget disco and vuvuzelas.

As bad as people have screwed-up we have done some marvelous things too.  See Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation or  Jacob Bronowski’s Ascent of Man both are 13 part BBC TV series on DVD and likely available at your local library.

Orville & Will at Big Kill Devil Hill

December 17, 1903 - First successful flight, Wright Flyer, LOC

From an engineering stand point consider that in about 60 years we went from the Wright Brothers 1903 Flyer that traveled one hundred twenty feet in twelve seconds to the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird which flew from NY to London in less than two hours. And how about the incredible advances in computer technologyforget about it!

Future ROVs will be smarter, faster, cheaper, defter and better suited to their job. Why aren’t these multi-million dollar oil wells equipped with their own ROV robotic crews that are attached to each well? Like tool kits in car trunks, they’d be ready to go to work, performing maintenance, doing inspections, sensing and reporting on operations, and they’d be “Johnny on the spot” first responders should something go wrong.

Better sensors, increased intelligent autonomous behavior, more adept manipulators and dexterous tooling will make future undersea robot crews more capable at their jobs. The cost for development and deployment of advanced robotics for these critical applications is certainly cheaper than cleaning-up the current mess.

It makes more sense, of course to design and build wells that don’t leak, but there is no perfect machine or process and we need to be prepared for catastrophic failures. Below is a concept for an advanced undersea robot or autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) from Germany.

Underwater robot with a sense of touch

The applications are numerous. Underwater robots with tactile capability can maintain offshore drilling rigs or collect sediment samples. The researchers hope that in future the sensor will be able to distinguish between the current and an obstacle. Credit: © DFKI Bremen

Read more about this concept…
Public release date: 5-May-2009

The robot dives into the sea, swims to the submerged cable and carries out the necessary repairs, but the person controlling the robot does not have an easy task. It is pitch dark and the robot’s lamp does not help much. What’s more, the current keeps pulling the robot away from where it needs to carry out the work.

In future, the robot could find its own way. A sensor will endow it with a sense of touch and help it to detect its undersea environment autonomously. “One component in this tactile capability is a strain gauge,” says Marcus Maiwald, project manager at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Applied Materials Research IFAM in Bremen. Together with his Fraunhofer colleagues and staff at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence DFKI, Bremen Laboratory, he has developed the model of an underwater robot with a sense of touch. “If the robot encounters an obstacle, the strain gauge is distorted and the electrical resistance changes. The special feature of our strain gauge is that it is not glued but printed on – which means we can apply the sensor to curved surfaces of the robot.” The single printed strip is just a few ten micrometers wide, i.e. about half the width of a human hair. As a result, the strain gauges can be applied close to each other and the robot can identify precisely where it is touching an obstacle. The sensor is protected from the salt water by encapsulation.

See a video that shows different projects from the robotics group of the DFKI Bremen.

More to come on ROV futures in Part 3…

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