Robotics consortium in offshore technology funding boost
A consortium of five universities is to spend up to £36m in developing robotic and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies for use in harsh offshore environments.
The group, which will be led by the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, aims to create robot-assisted asset inspection and maintenance technologies.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is putting up £14.3m.
A further £18m will come from industry partners.
The university consortium, which includes Heriot-Watt, Edinburgh, Imperial College London, Oxford and Liverpool, will contribute £3.6m.
The five institutions will work collaboratively as the Orca Hub to develop robotics and AI technologies that can make autonomous and semi-autonomous decisions and interventions across a range of domains.
According to those behind the project, it will be the largest academic centre in the world for research into offshore asset robotics technology.
Orca Hub director Prof David Lane, from Heriot-Watt University, said: "The international offshore energy industry faces many challenges, including near-permanent low oil prices, expensive decommissioning commitments of old infrastructure, particularly in the North Sea, and small margins on the traded commodity price per KWh of offshore renewable energy.
"Coupled to this, the offshore workforce is ageing as the new generation of qualified graduates seek less hazardous onshore opportunities.
"The goal is to develop shore-operated autonomous and semi-autonomous solutions for inspection, maintenance and decommissioning of offshore energy infrastructure using marine, terrestrial and airborne robotic systems."
Orca Hub deputy director Prof Sethu Vijayakumar, from the University of Edinburgh, added: "The UK's offshore energy sector is currently worth £40bn and supports 440,000 jobs as well as having a supply chain of an additional £6bn in goods and services exports.
"To ensure that the UK's offshore oil and renewable energy fields remain economically viable, it is essential to develop more productive and agile products and services that UK SMEs, start-ups and the existing supply chain can export internationally."