Unmanned Systems & the Future of Subsea Inspection

Unmanned Systems & the Future of Subsea Inspection

Sean Halpin — February 22, 2017

Times are tough in Oil & Gas – some of the toughest the industry has seen in decades. These tough times have forced everyone from operators down to manufacturers to shed staff, services, and even capability. Supply chains have been compressed and yet demand still exists to lower the cost of operations. There is only one way to do that: implement new technology. This isn’t a new tactic in Oil & Gas. Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) are a great example of technological implementation that is now indispensable in the industry. Imagine trying to accomplish the perceived mundane task of deepwater subsea inspection without an ROV! There is no way to get around it—this type of inspection isn’t cheap—and that’s why there are pilot programs that exist today aimed at lowering the cost of inspection by leveraging autonomous robotics.

That is what we spoke about at Underwater Intervention today. We recognize that there are many direct and indirect considerations when potentially integrating new technology into the oilfield, which is why autonomous technology must be thoroughly vetted before being deployed at sea in critical operations. The Wave Glider has been at sea for ten years now. Ten years navigating the world’s oceans from pole to pole while operators of the technology pilot it onshore. Components have failed and we have re-engineered them. Navigation algorithms have failed and have been re-written, and over the course of time the vehicle has been redesigned to accommodate the extreme environment in which it operates. We learned our lessons offshore by pushing our technology beyond its limits, realizing that persistence at sea requires persistent and agile engineering processes! And to date Wave Gliders have logged over 1.2 million nautical miles at sea.

Today we presented data collected during operations last year which, when each individual mission is combined, summarizing the capability of unmanned systems like the Wave Glider to change the cost structure of inspection. Thoroughly vetting offshore technology is important and there is simply no substitute for time at sea; something that we are fortunate to have through years of hard work and innovation. From collecting simple metocean data in 6m seas and listening for vessels near a target area, to harvesting data from seafloor sensors, our persistent robot has bridged the air/sea interface and reported back real-time data at a fraction of the cost of conventional technology. Tomorrow’s inspection techniques will leverage autonomous systems from subsea to space, and vehicles like the Wave Glider can serve as a vital communications and data link to connect these systems as we move towards a Digital Ocean. Robots aren’t going to take over the Oil & Gas industry (and we seriously doubt Wave Gliders are part of Skynet), but they should, and will, be utilized to extend the efficiency of conventional technology. Robots can free up vessels to conduct more critical tasks, provide real-time links to subsea infrastructure and vehicles, and move a few people onshore from offshore positions.

The industry needs technology like the Wave Glider to lower the cost of inspection and offshore operations and we are just seeing the proliferation of this type of technology today. I am confident that widespread use of autonomous robotics will open safer and more cost-effective offshore operations in less than ten years.

We are ready for it – are you?



Sean Halpin is the Senior Director for Global Energy Market Sales and Business Development at Liquid Robotics.