DTU Works on New Underwater Robot for Offshore Industry

Technical University of Denmark (DTU) has set up a laboratory where researchers will complete a modular underwater robot.

The robot would be used for inspection, and the long-term vision is that it will be able to carry out underwater repairs on foundations and rigs.

“We have a vision of creating a modular robot that is simple to operate—without the need for technical experts. Initially, it will be able to inspect and monitor, for example, the condition of the foundation of a wind turbine under water—or an ocean fish farming plant. In the long term, the intention is for the modular robot—which comprises several independent robots (modules) that can both work coupled together and individually—to also carry out repairs on the foundation,” says Associate Professor Roberto Galeazzi, DTU Electrical Engineering.

Some of Denmark’s most talented robot researchers are said to have developed the first prototypes of such an underwater robot at DTU’s REMORA laboratory.

“Others are working on similar projects, but our robot differs in one key area. It is modular—which means that each individual part of the robot is able to work alone—or together with other modules. Working in unison, the robots can draw on each other’s functions, thereby becoming fully autonomous. For example, if a robot has problems with his propeller, it can connect with a second module and move using its propeller. The same applies to many other areas—for example in relation to having sufficient battery performance,” explains Roberto Galeazzi.

Using just a single module, the modular robot can install and replace sensors in a subsea docking station placed on the foundations of a wind turbine to provide continuous monitoring.

“The underwater robot will have the great advantage that it can be permanently installed on an underwater foundation where it can monitor and operate independently of the weather conditions. It can function autonomously and with a high degree of flexible and reliability—qualities that are much sought-after by both the offshore industry and fish farming. We therefore look forward in the near future to present the first prototype of an underwater robot,” says Professor Mogens Blanke from DTU Electrical Engineering—acting supervisor for a few of the PhD students participating in the research.

The robot has been developed as part of DTU’s commitment within autonomous systems under the auspices of Maritime DTU. The research is being conducted as an interdisciplinary collaboration across the University, drawing on knowledge of mechanical engineering, robots, electronics, environment, and marine research. The laboratory’s work involves both developing hardware and software to ensure proper construction of the new modular robot.

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