Universities unite to advance AI tech for offshore energy

Illustration (Photo: Heriot-Watt University)

A consortium of five universities will use up to £36 million of support to advance robotics and artificial intelligence technologies for the inspection, repair, maintenance and certification of offshore energy platforms and assets.

The Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, a partnership between Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh, will lead a consortium that includes Imperial College London, the University of Oxford and the University of Liverpool.

The five institutions will work collaboratively with 31 industrial and innovation partners under the title of the ‘Offshore Robotics for Certification of Assets’ or ‘ORCA Hub’ to develop robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies for use in extreme and unpredictable environments.

The goal of the ORCA Hub will be to create robot-assisted asset inspection and maintenance technologies that are capable of making autonomous and semi-autonomous decisions and interventions across aerial, topside and marine domains.

Over £14.3 million of funding will come from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) with up to £18 million from 31 industry partners.

The university consortium will contribute a further £3.6 million, according to Heriot-Watt University.

David Lane, Professor at Heriot-Watt University who is also the Director of the ORCA Hub, said: “The goal is to develop shore-operated autonomous and semi-autonomous solutions for inspection, maintenance and decommissioning of offshore energy infrastructure using marine, terrestrial and airborne robotic systems.

“The ORCA Hub’s activities are therefore designed to lead advancement in key robotics and AI technologies that will create a step change in the current practices of offshore inspection, repair and maintenance.”

Philip Nelson, EPSRC Chief Executive, added: “These new Robotics Hubs will draw on the country’s research talent to nurture new developments in the field of robotics and provide the foundations on which innovative technologies can be built. The resulting outcomes from this research will allow us to explore environments that are too dangerous for humans to enter without risking injury or ill-health.”

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