Autonomous Drones to Perform Inspection of Ship Tanks
Man has always been obsessed with the idea of making his life easier, comfortable, and safe. This simple idea has led to uncountable inventions and innovations. Even modern technology aims at making some of the most challenging and dangerous routine tasks simple while reducing the time and cost for the user entity. This also includes the shipping and logistics sector. Technology has been instrumental in revolutionizing the supply chain industry too.
Recently, an aerial UAV, developed by Scout Drone Inspection has performed an assessment of a 19.4-m (63.6-ft) tall oil tank onboard a floating production, storage, and offloading (FPSO) vessel, Petrojarl Varg in Norway. This drone was made in collaboration with DNV GL (Quality assurance and Risk Management Company) to overcome the challenges of tank inspections. Tanks are typically a dangerous and challenging environment to work. Surveyors have to climb up the tanks especially to reach corner spaces frequently. Further, it dents the pockets due to high inspection costs, as the tank needs to be taken out of service for days it requires proper ventilation, entry of equipment for surveyors, and construct scaffolding. Hence, using a drone can cut the survey times and staging costs while improving surveyor safety. Previously, during its mandatory five-year inspection as per IMO guidelines, Petrojarl Varg was used to be moored above the oilfield.
Not only that, but the drone also shot a video that was live-streamed via Scout Drone Inspection’s cloud-system back to the owner, Altera Infrastructure’s headquarters in Trondheim, where engineers monitored operations. Through the video streaming, they checked for anomalies in the tank’s structure like cracks, deformations, and corrosions. During the FPSO test, a pilot controlled the drone using its flight assistance functions. The company is positive that as the technology matures, the drone will be able to navigate with increasing autonomy.
“This latest test showcases the next step in automation and using AI to analyze live video,” said DNV GL Maritime director of offshore classification Geir Fuglerud.
Even Scout Drone Inspection chief executive Nicolai Husteli expressed his belief that it was another necessary step towards autonomous drone inspections. “Up until now the process has been completely analog, but technology can address the urgent need to make the process more efficient and safer,” he adds.
The drone uses light detection and ranging (LiDAR) to navigate inside the tank since GPS signals are extremely faint in the enclosed space. The LiDAR creates a 3-D map of the tank, and all images and videos are accurately geotagged with position data. Both SDI and DNV GL expect drones will navigate more autonomously as the technology matures.
Fuglerud says that they have been working with drone surveys since 2015, and this is their major milestone in the automation sector. He further says, “As a class we are always working to take advantage of advances in technology to make our surveys more efficient and safer for surveyors, delivering the same quality while minimizing our operational downtime for our customers.”
Meanwhile, Altera Infrastructure is committed to using technology to enhance efficiency and safety and be at the forefront. The company sees great potential for drone inspection technology to meet the challenges of the inspection process going forward, as commented by Astrid Jørgenvåg, Senior Vice President Technical & Projects Department Altera Production, at Altera Infrastructure. This successful demonstration paves the way for remote tank inspection and place for drones in the shipping industry.