Snake-like robots engineered for subsea maintenance

40143freg_300A private enterprise founded by researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) has signed a new agreement with Statoil and with Kongsberg for development and testing of swimming robotic snakes.

NTNU and applied technology contractors Sintef have conducted research on snake robotics for more than 10 years. Their spinoff firm, Eelume, intends to develop its swimming robots for inspection and light intervention jobs on the seabed, reducing the use of larger, more expensive vessels for routine work at subsea oil and gas installations.

The robots would be permanently installed on the seabed and would perform visual inspections, plus adjusting valves and chokes – tasks which make up a large part of the workload of subsea inspection and intervention. The slender body of the Eelume robot would also provide access to confined areas that are difficult to access with existing technology.

“This partnership offers the chance to bring radical technology to the market, not just in what the Eelume robot can do, but how it does it,” says Bjørn Jalving, executive vice president, subsea division at Kongsberg Maritime. “It is a new tool that will enable operators to realise large scale cost savings by introducing new ways of conducting routine tasks and helping to prevent unscheduled shutdowns by reacting instantly when required.” Kongsberg is one of a small number of manufacturers selling autonomous underwater vehicles to the commercial and military market. Its offerings include the Hydroid REMUS series, acquired in a buyout in 2007, and its own Seaglider, HUGIN and MUNIN systems.

Eelume is the fifth private enterprise founded by researchers with NTNU’s Autonomous Marine Operations and Systems lab. Other recent ventures include the motion sensor firm Norwegian Subsea and consumer-market underwater drone firm BluEye Robotics.