IMCA ROV Seminar

What does the future hold for the ROV sector in Asia Pacific?

Around sixty delegates met at the Novotel Clarke Quay, Singapore, for the Asia Pacific ROV seminar. This followed on from the earlier ROV seminar held in Stavanger in May, which looked at the future for ROVs in the offshore construction industry.

The Singapore seminar posed the question, what does the future hold for the ROV industry? We look to a future where automation, digitalisation, robotics and machine learning have increasing influence on industry and business. It is important that the ROV industry remains competitive and can take advantage of these technological developments. The seminar considered ways in which ROV operators might do that. Workshops were held to help identify areas where the ROV committee work programme could most profitably help members towards practical solutions.

The seminar was opened by Craig Schul, ROV Manager for Oceaneering International in Asia Pacific. He provided a  brief overview of the current ROV market in Asia Pacific, looked at some significant industry challenges, and touched on the role of technology in the future of ROV services.

Goh Eng Wei, National University of Singapore Advanced Robotics Centre, gave the first technical presentation. He spoke about the  Bumblebee autonomous system, a prize-winning and innovative autonomous vehicle solution being developed in co-operation between academia and industry. The presentation outlined their vision, which was to engineer the autonomous systems of the future. It went on to cover some of the advanced capabilities of the vehicle, including navigation, obstacle perception, and manipulation and intervention. He noted how the AUV could be launched from an autonomous surface vehicle, demonstrating how AUV and ASV operations could be usefully integrated.

Mark Hardman, Fugro, gave a presentation on  optical underwater positioning systems being developed by Fugro. His presentation covered the concept of using blue light for positioning subsea, some of the hardware involved, and some of the possible applications. His presentation touched on aspects of the subsea hardware such as power consumption and communications capabilities, before considering possible applications. These included real-time positioning, subsea metrology, subsidence monitoring, and 3D imaging, as well as optical data communication. The system was precise, fast, low-cost and had a number of other advantages including insensitivity to acoustic interference.

Simon Waterfield, Sonardyne Survey Support Group, spoke on developments in combined and shared sensors and future positioning techniques. His agenda was to stimulate discussion on why sensors are combined, and what the possible benefits were of sharing sensors in terms of improvements in positioning. He went on to discuss possible future positioning technologies that might thus be provided. These included machine feature recognition based on accurate 3D models of structures, dynamic laser scanning, and field-wide navigation for resident AUVs. Simon’s presentation was only available on the day.

Delegates held a table discussion on areas in which they considered the ROV industry was being held back from moving towards a more high technology future. Some of the ideas raised included:

  • Costs and ‘lean’ market place – no-one wants to pay for anything extra. Until the spend increases it will be tougher for product development, risk taking and innovation – the industry slow-down is preventing new ideas
  • Commercial security and privacy – everyone needs to protect their business ‘edge’; in some market places, ‘open source’ is not seen as feasible
  • Conservative or traditional approach including perceptions – ‘Hydraulic = oil! Oil = Overalls’ – electric ROVs seen as the future

The fourth presentation was given by Ruben Subramaniam, IKM Subsea Singapore, and covered  developments in resident ROV operations. Control of resident in-field ROVs from a remote shore-based location offered several advantages including improved efficiency and better logistics, reduced crew numbers and hence lower costs, and more timely delivery of data. He noted that there was little difference between controlling the ROV from a vessel offshore and controlling it remotely from onshore elsewhere. He outlined some of the benefits of a resident or in-field ROV and looked in detail at engineering aspects of such a vehicle.

Euan Mackay, Seatronics, gave a presentation entitled  More with Less: ROV Solutions to Offshore Challenges. Looking at some of the challenges inherent to existing ROVs, he outlined developments in future capabilities of vehicles, which would address those challenges. These included ‘ROV USB’ and optical modems, better processing and use of 3D data, and the possible use of autonomous surface vehicles (ASVs) for touchdown monitoring, as well as advances in laser scanning, real-time 3D image mosaicking, and developments in sonar imaging in poor visibility. Smaller and less costly vehicles would work more efficiently, achieving more with less.

Dr Pablo Valdivia y Alvarado, Singapore University of Technology & Design, opened after lunch, with a very interesting presentation entitled Opportunities and challenges for soft robotics in marine exploration. He noted that the harsh environment of the subsea world posed a challenge to traditional robotics. Developments in soft robots, designed and built from polymer materials, could allow increased flexibility and greater efficiency in the subsea task, as well as lower risk to humans and equipment. Dr Valdivia y Alvarado’s presentation was only available on the day.

Laurence Liew, AI Industry Innovation Singapore, gave a stimulating lecture on artificial intelligence (AI) and some possible applications in the transport industry. He began by noting the importance of government and big companies encouraging innovation, and highlighted a world-wide lack of engineers in AI and machine learning. He covered concepts of AI and machine learning, some AI trends and advances, and ways forward for the marine and subsea industries. He concluded with consideration on possible futures for AI, including reduced costs of goods and services, increased productivity, and creation of new and unknown jobs. Laurence’s presentation was only available on the day.

Andreas Hauser, Energy Storage Systems Singapore, rounded up the technical presentations with a talk on  future developments in lithium battery technology. He began by reminding us what was an electro-chemical energy storage system, before outlining how modelling, machine learning and AI were making improvements in battery management. He went on to cover some promising technical developments in lithium-ion batteries and their developmental time-frames, and concluded with a look beyond lithium-ion batteries at developments in other chemistries such as sodium-ion, sodium-sulphur molten salt batteries and hydrogen-bromine flow batteries.

The seminar closed with further table discussion aimed at identifying solutions to some of the challenges discussed in the first workshop. Some of the ideas suggested included:

  • Better IMCA liaison with manufacturers;
  • Intellectual property – facilitating better sharing of IP;
  • Better collaboration and better relations between academia and industry, including mutual review and development of course content and competence requirements;
  • Use and adaption of technologies from other industries;
  • Better use of media and social media to raise awareness;
  • Work towards standardisation of electrical connections and data interfaces;
  • Work towards a less traditional view of the ROV industry – closer liaison with ASV and AAV vehicle industries.