Shell agrees to test fully robotic platform for underwater inspection

Illustration courtesy of Nauticus

Posted on August 4, 2022 at 5:34 p.m. by

The Maritime Executive

Unmanned offshore survey and inspection company Nauticus Robotics has reached an agreement with Shell on a program to develop and mature its underwater infrastructure inspection systems. Together with inspection tooling service providers, Shell and Nauticus will work on the operational qualification of Nauticus’ Aquanaut and Hydronaut autonomous platforms.

Nauticus has ordered an initial series of 18-meter unmanned workboats (dubbed Hydronauts) that will support launch/recovery, communications and recharging of an onboard AUV system (Aquanaut). The self-contained, untethered Aquanaut is designed to perform underwater survey, maintenance and response work – without the cost and carbon footprint of a large manned survey vessel. Most of this underwater work today is done by human-controlled remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), which are tethered and require a much larger vessel platform for launch and recovery.

“The implementation of our supervised autonomous method – a method that has proven to be more robust and dynamic than most of its kind – should allow our partner and our future customers to realize more than 50% savings compared to current methods of operation,” said Todd Newell, SVP. business development for Nauticus.

In collaboration with Shell, Nauticus will test its concept of unmanned operation for the specialized task of underwater inspection. A first feasibility study for the project has just been completed and the team has moved on to the operational qualification phase. This involves testing the operation of the Hydronaute/Aquanaute robotic couple in supervised autonomy and mastery of tools. Nauticus Acoustic Underwater Communication Technology enables wireless operation while keeping the job monitored.

“This project aims to fundamentally improve the way we collect data from underwater installations, through a combination of ‘AUV native’ tool design, supervised autonomy, and recent improvements in remote communications,” said Ross Doak, deep-sea robotics engineer with Shell’s robotics team.

The robotic ship/submersible combination is attracting many developers to the underwater space. Ocean Infinity’s Armada program envisions a fleet of 23 unmanned AUV carrier/investigator vessels, and its first hulls are currently under construction in Vard Vung Tao. The Reach Subsea USV-ROV program, supported by Wilhelmsen/Kongsberg, is also comparable, albeit on a smaller scale.