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Published: 14 October 2019 14 October 2019
Autonomous drone demonstrates contact (Courtesy ORCA Hub)A consortium of five universities, working with 35 industrial and innovation partners, has unveiled the latest results. Offshore Robotics for the Certification of Assets (ORCA) Hub’s aim is to advance robotics and Artificial Intelligence technologies for the inspection, repair, maintenance and certification of offshore energy platforms and assets. The ORCA Hub showcased the application of 16 autonomous and semi-autonomous robotic solutions at ORE Catapult.
 
The event included a demonstration of autonomous drones by Dr Mirko Kovac, director of the aerial robotics laboratory at Imperial College London. Drones are currently used to visually inspect offshore wind turbines, but these inspections are remotely controlled by people on-site at the offshore location. Should an area of concern be found, technicians are required to carry out further inspection, maintenance or repair, often at great heights and therefore in high-risk environments. These drones are fully autonomous. As well as visually inspecting a turbine for integrity concerns, theirs make contact, placing sensors on the infrastructure, or acting as a sensor itself, to assess the health of each asset. This technology could even deposit repair material for certain types of damage.
 
Other demonstrations included Limpet, an integrated multi-sensing device designed for deployment in large collectives. Limpet can be used on or around an offshore asset for integrity monitoring and inspection. Equipped with nine sensing devices and four methods of communication integrated into a single, robust and compact platform, Limpet replaces the need for multiple sensors to be used for integrity monitoring on wind turbines. Able to wirelessly communicate with each other, or a human operator, Limpet works subsea or topside and can provide an early warning system for asset inspection and maintenance requirements.
 
ORCA Hub was launched in October 2017. It forms part of the UK Government’s £93 million R&D funding on “Robotics and AI for Extreme Environments” through the Industry Strategic Challenge Fund (ISCF). The ORCA Hub is led by the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, a partnership between Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh. The consortium also includes Imperial College London, the University of Oxford and the University of Liverpool.
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