Robotic technology developed for underwater inspection of oil and gas pipelines

Isbel Lázaro.
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tecnología robótica

Inspenet, September 8, 2023.

Robotic technology in action

An autonomous underwater inspection robot is being developed at the University of Houston to detect possible pipeline leaks and structural failures in oil and gas projects.

This technological advance, called SmartTouch, is the product of the work of UH researchers and is materialized through remotely operated vehicles (ROV) equipped with multiple intelligent touch sensors based on voltage waves, as well as video cameras and scanning sonars. These ROVs can travel along underwater pipelines to inspect bolted connections.

SmartTouch: the robot for underwater inspection of oil and gas pipelines

The ROV prototype has been tested both in the laboratory and in Galveston Bay and according to the university, the experiments have confirmed the viability of this method to inspect the clearance in bolted connections underwater. Initial studies have been funded by the UH Subsea Systems Institute.

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“By automating the inspection process with this next-generation robotic technology, we can dramatically reduce the cost and risk of these important subsea inspections, which will lead to safer offshore oil and gas pipeline operations, as less time will be required. intervention of human divers,” said UH researcher Zheng Chen.

“Ultimately, the project will push the boundaries of what can be achieved through the integration of robotics and structural health monitoring technologies. “With proper implementation, the rate of subsea pipeline failures and related accidents will decrease and subsea operations will be able to expand at a faster pace than before,” he added.

The U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) is supporting the project with a $960,493 grant . Scientists at the University of Houston are working closely with Oceaneering International and Chevron, an oil and gas company, who will evaluate the feasibility of commercializing this technology in the future.

The researchers say this sensing solution can also pave the way for inspecting other types of underwater structures, establishing a framework for future advances in robotic technology .

“Corrosion is responsible for most small leaks, but the impacts can still be devastating to the environment. Therefore, our technology will be very accurate in monitoring corrosion and will also help mitigate the chances of pipeline failures due to other factors,” said co-principal investigator Gangbing Song.

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