First autonomous underwater vehicle revolutionizing surveying and inspection

JU'AYMAH, December 27, 2017

A new autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) that can conduct offshore platform debris surveys to identify seabed clearance and potential debris was recently inaugurated by Saudi Aramco.

Cost-effective and flexible

The AUV, which can also conduct offshore pipeline inspections to determine subsea asset integrity and accurately locate possible leaks, is also cost efficient. A job that could require a $50 million large survey vessel can now be done swiftly with the $2.5 million AUV.

In addition to its cost avoidance benefits, the AUV’s technological innovation and modular design allows for interchangeable modifications based on mission needs.

For example, the sidescan sonar/bathymetric module for geophysical operations is a camera used for subsea inspection projects, and it is also the environmental module for oil leak detection surveys. An additional battery module can be added to the assembly, allowing the AUV to extend the duration of its mission.

In essence, the AUV resembles a shrunken vessel but is safer, as the team operates it remotely onshore or from a boat controlling the vehicle through Wi-Fi when within reach of its connection limit. When at depth, the AUV works its mission’s route using its Inertial Navigation System.

A safe and reliable success

Simon Squibb, the AUV field team leader in the Hydrographic Survey Unit, highlighted the safety and reliability of the vehicle. “It hosts a selection of safety features that enable it to abort missions and avoid danger with its collision safety systems and eases the search and recovery with an embedded satellite phone and a pinger locator,” he said.

Badr M. Burshaid, acting manager of Project Management Office Department (PMOD), praised the team’s efforts. “The success of these bright individuals in reflecting the need and use of this technology is what gave us confidence to invest in it, as venturing into technologies that increase profitability, safety, and efficiency is something we always seek. Pursuing the implementation of technologies and innovation is how PMOD continuously strives toward Operational Excellence.”

During the inauguration of the orange torpedo-shaped AUV at the Ju’aymah pier, a demonstration was performed by the AUV field team of Squibb, Zaki Ghunaim, Najeeb Al Ghanmi, Mohammed Al Otaibi, Mohamed Alnaqeib, and Yousef Al Maqaedi.

The AUV field team could not have acquired the technology without the diligent research and support of the procurement project leader Bonifatius Toha and AUV project champion Ali Al-Shamrani.

From idea to reality

Starting from a casual conversation, the AUV concept went from an interesting chat to a reality through in-depth research and strong proposals.

Al-Shamrani said, “This AUV is only the beginning, and I am certain my management did see the future in this technology, as it will bring a great deal of services — whether it is what we have on this AUV today or the investments that will be made to introduce new technologies into it to better serve the company.”

The AUV’s success is another reflection of Saudi Aramco’s effective deployment of the latest industrial technologies.

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