(TRONDHEIM, Norway) — A Norwegian technology company has developed a low-cost underwater drone that allows shipowners, vessel crew and shipyards to perform hull inspections without the need for divers or expensive ROVs.
The Blueye Pioneer underwater drone has been developed by Trondheim-based Blueye Robotics, a company which has sprung out from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Centre for Autonomous Marine Operations and Systems (NTNU AMOS).
Outside of dry-docking periods, inspections below the waterline are today normally carried out by divers or ROVs (remotely operated vehicles). While utilizing divers is inefficient and represents significant HSE risks, ROVs have traditionally been very costly and required extensive training — and in most cases an external operator — to manage.
“We are providing vessels' crews with an industrial drone that can be operated by anyone capable of using a smartphone or a tablet PC. Perhaps just as important is that it is priced reasonably at approximately $4,000 to $5,000 per drone system. This will allow for several drones onboard to make inspections even quicker, which in turn means higher operational reliability and uptime for the vessel,” said Erik Dyrkoren, CEO of Blueye Robotics.
Vessel hulls regularly require both ad-hoc and periodic inspections during transit and when entering ports. For example to check the vessel´s structural integrity, inlets and discharge valves, rudder, propeller, coating levels and possible corrosion. Eyes under the waterline are also required to check the hull for explosives and smuggling of contraband.
The Blueye Pioneer underwater drone has been developed by subsea experts experienced with harsh Norwegian offshore conditions. It is designed to satisfy industrial reliability requirements for underwater operations, but with a user-friendliness normally associated with consumer technology products.
The drone is equipped with powerful thrusters that allows it to operate in heavy currents and dive to 150 meters. Live video is transmitted via a thin umbilical cable to the surface and thereafter wirelessly to the user, who may either be located onboard a vessel or onshore. The drone is compact (45 cm x 25 cm x 35 cm) and weighs only 7 kilos.
“By providing vessel owners and their crew with easy and cost-efficient access to what is below the waterline, we also give them the opportunity to address potential hull issues before they become a problem. Combined with lower than usual capex, we believe this drone can make hull inspections more frequent and less problematic,” said Dyrkoren.