Shell Signs On to Test All-Robotic Platform for Subsea Inspection

Illustration courtesy Nauticus

Published Aug 4, 2022 5:34 PM by The Maritime Executive

Uncrewed offshore survey and inspection company Nauticus Robotics has reached an agreement with Shell on a program to develop and mature its systems for inspecting subsea infrastructure. Working with inspection tooling service providers, Shell and Nauticus will work on operational qualification for Nauticus' Aquanaut and Hydronaut autonomous platforms. 

Nauticus has ordered an initial production run of 18-meter uncrewed workboats (dubbed Hydronauts) which will support launch/recovery, comms, and charging for an onboard AUV system (Aquanaut). The autonomous, untethered Aquanaut is designed to perform survey, maintenance and subsea intervention work - without the cost and carbon footprint of a large crewed survey vessel. Most of this subsea work is carried out today by human-controlled Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs), which are tethered and require a much larger vessel platform to launch and recover.

“Implementing our supervised autonomous method – one that has proven more robust and dynamic than most of its kind – is expected to provide our partner and future customers more than 50 percent cost savings compared to today’s methods of operation," said Todd Newell, the SVP of Business Development for Nauticus. 

Working with Shell, Nauticus will test out its uncrewed operating concept for the specialized task of subsea inspection. An initial feasibility study for the project was recently completed, and the team has moved into the operational qualification phase. This focuses on testing out the operation of the robotic Hydronaut/Aquanaut pair using supervised autonomy and tool control. Nauticus’ acoustic underwater comms technology enables tetherless operation while retaining oversight of the work. 

 “This project aims to fundamentally improve how we collect subsea facility data, through the combination of ‘AUV native’ tooling design, supervised autonomy, and recent improvements in remote communications," said Ross Doak, Deepwater Robotics Engineer on Shell’s robotics team.

The robotic vessel/submersible combination is attracting multiple developers in the subsea space. Ocean Infinity's Armada program plans for a fleet of 23 unmanned AUV carrier / survey vessels, and its first hulls are currently under construction at Vard Vung Tao. The Wilhelmsen/Kongsberg-backed Reach Subsea USV-ROV program is also comparable, though smaller in scale.