University of Oxford Engineering Students Develop Robots to Work in Offshore Energy

By: Sara Chauvette

Photo Credit: Department of Engineering Science

For months, researchers from the University of Oxford Robotics Institute have been developing autonomous robots that can navigate in offshore energy environments. In November, the students and researchers had a chance to show off their works in progress at the ORCA Hub demonstrations in Blyth, United Kingdom.

The ORCA Hub is a multi-million dollar program that brings together the UK’s top researchers to develop new tools for the offshore energy sector. The goal of the collaborative project is to enable robots to map, navigate, monitor, and make independent decisions at an offshore site.

The November demonstrations tasked Oxford with demonstrating how their robots could perform inspection missions, map, and adapt to a changing environment. Oxford’s technology relied on LIDAR, thermal cameras, sight cameras and other advanced features.

The government funded ORCA initiative started in 2017, and relies on the expertise of Oxford, as well as the University of Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt University and the University of Liverpool. These partners are equipped in a range of knowledge including sensing, robot control, machine learning, structural integrity monitoring and more.

According to the hub’s website, these collaborators want to “use robotic systems and AI to revolutionize asset integrity management” that can be integrated into “complex and cluttered environments” such as an offshore energy field.

So far, the team has hatched incredible innovations, including autonomous drones, smart 3D underwater vision, advanced robot arm manipulation tools, topic mapping tools, and autonomous monitoring technology.

All of their technology must be workable and efficient in undersea environments. Their 3D vision system provides real-time motion estimation and can communicate 3D models of subsea elements even when the water is murky or not clear. The researchers say the tool could be used to do ship hull inspections or monitoring assets that are underwater.

Their advanced robot arm manipulating tool could be used in dangerous or rapidly changing situations or environments, and could have applications in repair situations and more.

To read more about the ORCA hub and its research, click here.