The maintenance of seafaring ships can be a laborious and costly expense. The damp and dirty inspections which take many man hours must be done at regular intervals to ensure their sea worthiness. This normally involves taking the huge vessels to dock in poor countries where labour cost are lower, but a team of boffins have thought up and started testing a project which should help save time and money for this task. Leonidas
Drikos, the managing director of the project explains:
“The project is about inspecting ships with the assistance of robots. We implemented a fleet of robots, different kinds of robots, that will altogether undertake the task.”
The steel hold of a cargo ship in Bulgaria is quite literally crawling with robot inspectors. Each one takes a slightly different approach to the job of making sure a ship is seaworthy; a magnetic climbing robot is used for inspecting ship hulls, an underwater robot inspects ballast tanks, an autonomous flying vehicle makes a visual inspection and a fourth robot with magnetic tracks is used to inspect the hold of a ship.
Whether they’re flying, crawling, or depth-scanning, the robots are designed to scrutinise the ship from every angle. The aim is to offer a flow of accurate information to surveyors, and thereby cut time and costs. Alessia Vergine is head of Marine Research at RINA
She says: “We obtain general video that gives us an idea of the decay or integrity of the structure, and the corrosion. We also obtain close up pictures of particular points inside, that we should then inspect.
“From the beginning we understood that working in a wet environment, where we have to move around on surfaces that aren’t completely clean, dirty and damp surfaces.. That represents a problem for these technologies.”
The fleet is the fruit of a European research project that brings together ship classification companies, and robotics engineers. Their first step was to explore how robots coped with maritime life.
It’s a steep learning curve, but the team is sure it is steering the right course, as Leonidas Drikos explains:
“We do have the proof of concept, so the next step is working in much more demanding conditions, let’s say. Because now we have been working in trials, but we know that trials are trials, so my expectation is to have them working in real life.”