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Robotic Hull Cleaning Might be an Easy Way to Cut Carbon

Regular cleaning could go a long ways towards meeting CII compliance goals, according to new startups

Armach robot cleaner
Courtesy Armach Robotics

Published Dec 20, 2022 8:39 PM by The Maritime Executive

Robotic hull-cleaning is a burgeoning field, with half a dozen new tech firms competing with traditional diver services in a bid to make shipping more efficient and environmentally friendly. Massachusetts-based Armach Robotics joined the market in March 2022 as a spinoff of marine software company Greensea Systems, and it is expanding its reach using remote operations. 

Armach's robotic hull cleaner can be deployed by two people in a harbor, without cranes for handling, and it can be operated from company headquarters. In December, the company passed a key milestone when its staff in Plymouth successfully controlled a hull service robot in Norfolk, 600 miles away. Using a 4G modem for connectivity, they made a comms connection and sent all the commands needed to start up the robot and drive it to a nearby ship. The hull service robot's on-hull navigation system took it from there, performing a brief test cleaning and demonstrating its ability to autonomously navigate around obstacles.

"Flying the vehicle from Plymouth and landing on the BB64 was a euphoric experience, as we reached one more milestone on our technology roadmap," said John Dunn, Armach's VP Operations and the pilot on the test. 

Future developments will include support systems that can launch the robot and recover it automatically, either from a pier or from the ship itself. The objective is to develop a fully robotic solution that can provide frequent, rapid cleaning as a service, removing microfouling early on before it grows enough to affect the ship's efficiency. 

"We'll carry out the cleaning remotely and customers will reap the benefits of saving up to 10 percent in fuel, reducing carbon emissions by up to 10 percent, and mitigating the spread of invasive species," says Alex Kern, Armach's director of sales and marketing.

In the long run, Armach hopes that robotic hull cleaning could even allow ships to switch to biocide-free bottom coatings, according to regulatory compliance and outreach director Karl Lander. Nontoxic coatings would be better for the environment, and frequent cleaning could keep down fouling without any need for toxic copper compounds.