Energy research and consulting service, Douglas-Westwood (DW), believes there is still potential for substantial growth for autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), particularly in the oil & gas sector, where AUVs remain niche assets.
Namely, technological advancement has driven growth in the sector and in the last few years units have become increasingly flexible. Beyond flexibility, increasingly compact vessels have been introduced to the market, making units viable at greater water depths.
However, DW said that there are still a number of limiting factors preventing wider uptake, these include: limited communication, lack of manipulation ability and low levels of endurance. Improving these areas will be key for increasing the use of AUVs in the future – reducing the requirement for human workers, and likely leading to increased accuracy, reliability and safety.
Fortunately, the sector has a strong research culture and there is constant work to create new concepts and push the current technologies further. There are numerous concepts that aim to improve previous limiting factors, including Eelume’s subsea intervention “snakes” which allow inspection work in areas too small for typical tools, as well as potentially being able to manipulate and adjust subsea valves and chokes. This is a small step toward a fully autonomous subsea development – a likely boon for oil & gas companies. Statoil have recently signed an agreement with Eelume to help accelerate the technology, demonstrating that there is clear interest within the oil & gas sector for autonomous vessels.
In the near term, it is expected that the military will continue to be the biggest user of AUVs – their importance with regards to surveillance continuing to grow. Oil & Gas and renewables should also see an increase in the use of these vessels while they will remain integral to many research efforts. As DW explores in its new World AUV Market Forecast, the future for AUV units appears bright.
Source: DW; Video: Statoil