UL Marine Robot in Field Trials Offshore

The Centre for Marine Robotics and Intelligent Systems at UL (www.CRIS.ul.ie) integrated their advanced marine robot systems – ROV Étaín with specialist laser imaging, 3D sonar, HDef video, precision subsea navigation, manipulators and more aboard the Marine Institute National Research Vessel Celtic Explorer during December 2018 for Offshore trials from 4 – 14th January 2019. Chief scientist for the research voyage, Dr Gerard Dooly, led this scientific expedition with a compliment of 12 MaREI researchers and guests (professors, research fellows and PhDs) from UL, NUIGalway and University of Ulster/Colerain supported by P&OMaritime crew of sixteen with Master Anthony Hobin.

(a) UL ROV Étaín recovery to surface after a subsea mission. (b) Reef forming cold water coral growing on the structure of WW1 ship wreck

The field work for the mission has numerous research aspects both engineering and scientific including automatic docking of ROV system to garage subsea in the development of permanently deployed sub marine robot technology for use at critical subsea infrastructure. ROV Étain was flown to carry out detailed 3D sonar, laser and high definition video survey of targets including sea mounds, unidentified wrecks (a 160m ship and submarine), gas pipeline and well head infrastructure (known in the Oil & Gas sector as a Christmas Tree due to the structure shape). One important survey objective aimed to investigate cold water coral growth on subsea wrecks which form man-made reefs in the deep sea that provide protective habitat and nurseries and are colonised by a diversity of marine fauna. The laser, 3-d sonar and close quarters video imaging of the wrecks and structures enable detailed inspection and mapping/modelling which will be used for identification of the previously un-identified wrecks. Flight of ROV Étaín close to these targets required the combination of human pilot skill to avoid becoming snared in nets entangled on the wrecks and precision auto flight control for acquisition of precision composite images.

Dan Toal, Chair of Electrical Engineering and Robotics, UL aboard RV Celtic Explorer, Fri 11 Jan 2019.