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Equinor to Install Autonomous Subsea Drone

Credit: Equinor
Roberto Di Silvestro (left), Giovanni Chiesa, Sophie Hildebrand, Hans Henrik Nygaard and Gry Lindboe. (Photo: Arne Reidar Mortensen)

By The Maritime Executive 2019-10-02 17:42:20

Equinor has awarded Saipem a subsea service contract using a pioneering autonomous underwater intervention drone and an all-electric ROV. 

The technology will be put into production in 2020 when the Njord field in the Norwegian Sea resumes production. The 10-year contract is worth an estimated EUR 40 million and has five two-year options for additional extension. 

The underwater intervention drone, Hydrone-R, is expected to operate autonomously below Njord. It has a series of sensors embedded onboard and proprietary artificial intelligence features for unmanned navigation and autonomous anomaly detection on a wide range of subsea systems.

The vehicle can remain underwater uninterrupted for 12 months, making it the first ever resident subsea drone. In this resident mode, Hydrone-R features wireless operability and can be connected to subsea infrastructures via through-water communication links. It can cover an area within a 10-kilometer radius for inspections and interventions. An even larger distance can be covered via intermediate subsea docking stations for recharging, mission download or data upload, thus offering an unlimited range of operations. Alternatively, Hydrone-R can be launched subsea and then retrieved on the surface upon completion of the mission following a more conventional operational model.

The ROV, Hydrone-W, will be connected to the platform like a traditional ROV. Both machines are electric and can be operated without a surface vessel. Equinor’s proprietary docking station for data transmission and subsea induction charging will be installed below Njord and used by the underwater drone.

Hydrone-W will be used for heavy intervention work. It can be operated from a Njord control room or from shore. It is expected to be fully developed in 2021. Hydrone-R will perform similar tasks, but has been assigned a janitor role for quick response in unexpected situations.

The scope of work encompasses supporting drilling activities as well as the entire plan of inspections and interventions on the Njord subsea assets, namely Pipeline End Manifolds (PLEMs), flowlines, umbilicals and riser bases. Control of Hydrone-R and Hydrone-W will be ensured from both the floating rig Njord-A and onshore via Sonsub’s proprietary remote control protocols.

Traditionally, it has taken two to three days to mobilize personnel offshore for this type of unexpected situations. Hydrone-R is able to move over long distances under water and can also perform other tasks. It may, for example, maneuver to the neighboring Hyme installation, 20 kilometers away, for required intervention tasks.

The use of the technology is expected to lead to a significant carbon reduction. In addition, response times will be reduced, and operations will not be dependent on weather conditions.