Japanese deal will see '˜world's first' undersea robotic arm tested in Scotland

A major Japanese industrial corporation has signed an agreement that will see the world's first test of an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) undertaken in Scotland.

KHI directors with Steve Ham of The Underwater Centre and Fiona Hyslop MSP in Tokyo, alongside the AUV

Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd (KHI) will carry out a verification test of a prototype AUV equipped with a robot arm for subsea pipeline inspection.

The test, scheduled for October at The Underwater Centre in Fort William, will be the first of its kind in the world, according to the Japanese firm.

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KHI has been developing leading-edge component technologies for AUVs with a focus on the growing demand for pipeline maintenance in offshore oil and gas fields.

Steve Ham, commercial director at The Underwater Centre, travelled to Tokyo for the signing of the agreement, which was witnessed by Fiona Hyslop, cabinet secretary for external affairs.

Ms Hyslop said: “I am delighted that KHI one of Japan’s major companies, has decided to develop this innovative technology in Scotland.

“It is fantastic news for The Underwater Centre in Fort William. 
Scottish Development International has worked hard behind the scenes to help secure this hugely significant agreement. KHI also has 
excellent links with Edinburgh 
Centre for Robotics at Heriot-Watt University, which is developing 
the control software and multi sensor algorithms for the AUV system to enable it to track pipes underwater.

“The Scottish Government’s Subsea Action Plan, launched in January 2017, reflects our ambitions to support this important sector, not only in international oil and gas markets, but also to diversify into other sectors including renewables and deep-sea mining.”

As a purpose-built subsea training and trials facility, The Underwater Centre incorporates an extensive pier complex including four dive stations, classrooms, workshops and decompression chambers plus mechanical and electrical workshops, a 1.5 million litre indoor tank and classrooms as part of their ROV training suite.

In November 2017, KHI successfully completed a 15-day verification test at The Underwater Centre for the automated underwater docking of a prototype AUV to its charging station, involving contactless charging and large-capacity optical communication.

With a focus on the growing demand for pipeline maintenance in offshore oil and gas fields, Kawasaki has been developing leading-edge component technologies for AUVs, based on sophisticated submarine technologies fostered in-house over many years.

Aiming at commercialisation in 2020, KHI is currently developing an AUV capable of underwater charging and transferring of inspection data to the mother ship while autonomously locating and tracking pipelines at close range, including those buried under seabed sediment.

For the upcoming test, leveraging on synergies of its technologies, Kawasaki plans to use a prototype AUV equipped with a robot arm with an attached inspection tool unit – which is currently under development – to achieve autonomous locating and tracking of subsea pipelines.

The test will focus on verifying the robot arm’s capability to absorb the movement of the AUV due to tidal currents, as well as verifying that the inspection tool unit can continuously track a pipeline under those conditions.

Mr Ham, The Underwater Centre’s commercial director, said: “We have built up a very good relationship over the development and delivery of the project and we look forward to welcoming KHI back to Fort William later this year and in future.”