Development of an Underwater Manipulator-Vehicle Control System for Subsea Intervention Tasks

  • Supervisor: Dr. Matthew W. Dunnigan (Heriot-Watt University)
  • Sponsoring Company: SeeByte
  • PhD Student: Corina Barbalata

Offshore oil and gas companies are now investing in smaller form-factor autonomous inspection vehicles which offer the potential to revolutionise Life-of-Field (LoF) operations providing an autonomous, low-cost inspection option which does not require the expensive support infrastructure (crew, vessels) that current Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROV’s) use. The current focus of these vehicles is currently on inspection but future programs will require that these small autonomous systems are equipped with a manipulator arm and are capable of conducting intervention tasks such as taking measurements and carrying out repairs. The small form factor of these autonomous vehicles makes manipulator based operations much more difficult and will require the development of innovative nonlinear, adaptive coupled control algorithms so that both the vehicle and arm may be controlled concurrently.

The problem of executing coordinated control schemes on this coupled nonlinear dynamic system which are robust and globally stable is still unsolved. This capability is even more important when the task is being conducted autonomously where the onboard software must prioritise different vehicle and manipulator control strategies to achieve a specified goal. The impact of the project on the academic robotics research base will be both nationally and internationally significant. Moreover, beyond the academic interest, there is an urgent need now for improvements in underwater manipulator-vehicle systems technology in the offshore oil and gas industries. SeeByte Ltd (the industrial sponsor) and Subsea7 are currently involved in a multi-million development program to create the first autonomous light inspection vehicle (AIV). A future ambition is to equip the AIV with robotic manipulators and the outputs of this PhD programme will pump-prime this activity.