For BG Group, inspecting their vast arrays of production equipment lying on the sea floor is proving to be an enormous financial burden, and they are certainly not alone in this issue either. Launched from dynamically positioned surface vessels while being operated and maintained by specialists, t’s not an inexpensive undertaking.
In the increasingly safety-conscious world that energy majors operate within, human diver intervention is quickly becoming a thing of the past, if not phased out entirely in some cases.
Nevertheless, equipment still needs to be inspected.
In coordination with the Brazilian Institute of Robotics (BIR), BG Group has been working on a research and development project – codenamed FlatFish – based around a a lightweight, low cost vehicle that will be able to carry out subsea inspections completely autonomously. “It will reside subsea and be capable of undocking from a submerged docking station, carrying out an inspection mission and returning to base, all without human intervention,” explains John Costin, Surface Technology Manager for BG Group.
“As a result, in addition to obtaining traditional 2D video footage, we will be able to build 3D state-of-the-art visual reconstructions of equipment and structures, which will help us identify any collision or impact damage, the presence and nature of defects, and make an assessment of the overall structural integrity,” he adds.
Partnership with the German Center for Artificial Intelligence
Located at Senai CIMATEC in the state of Bahia, BIR was established in 2013 through a partnership with the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), and with support from the University of Bremen.
The objective of the project is to reduce operating costs and mitigate production losses and the risks of major accidents through increased inspection frequencies, and higher quality inspection results. The first phase of the project will develop, test and trial two prototype vehicles: one will be built and tested in Germany and the second in Brazil. A second phase will be launched in early 2016, leading to the construction of a production vehicle, which will be field trialled in a BG Group asset. Future developments will include the addition of manipulation and intervention capabilities to the vehicle.
The Flatfish project is the first initiative under a long-term collaboration between BG Group and BIR, funded through the Brazilian Government R&D levy, which requires that 1% of gross production revenue from large Brazilian oil and gas fields to be invested in R&D in Brazil. Special funding has also been received from Embrapii, a Brazilian company funding research and industrial innovation, managed by the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation.