The use of automation technologies and remote operation has steadily been increasing in the offshore environment over the past few years. Of these technologies, ROVs and AUVs have become critical to the implementation of standardized operations and project management.
ROVs and AUVs
ROVs and AUVs are great tools for companies in the oil and gas field since they enable subsea monitoring of pipelines and the ocean floor. The operation of these vehicles is made possible by transferring data to the vessel or central data hub.
Video streaming provides the operator with eyes in the subsea environment without having to leave the surface. This technology has improved over the past few years to where companies can now stream high-definition video over satellite links. This video feed can be augmented with sonar data and 3-D models to piece together a near real-time picture of what the subsea environment looks like in any situation. By augmenting the video with 3-D models of the site, an ROV may have a more comprehensive understanding of its environment beyond what it can see.
ROV use is not only critical to the welfare of operations but also to the environment. The majority if not all of ROV operations are recorded and reviewed. Oftentimes the data recorded must be transferred to shore to verify that the job has been completed. In certain incidents such as the Deepwater Horizon disaster, ROV video is sent back to shore to document a disaster and keep tabs on the issues being seen on the seafloor after the event. Operational efficiencies are gained by using video during normal operations and during the post-job review. This is accomplished by providing a record of all activity to complete the installation or repair. This live and recorded data provide the documentation required to help support the equipment going forward and is critical to the regularity and business sides of how the systems are deployed and maintained. Additionally, analyzing how the previous installs were completed and supported provides further enhancements to planning teams.
Augmented reality (AR) is a new technology that has emerged in the last few years that increases the viability of subsea operations. With this technology companies can take a 3-D model and overlay it into the video. AR can be incredibly valuable to the operation of subsea ROVs and AUVs, particularly in low- or even zero-visibility environments. It provides situational awareness of what is happening below the surface on a rig or subsea pipeline. Additionally, with remote operation of drones or remote factories topside, AR enables operators to feel as if they are in the environment and increases efficient and effective operations. AR technology serves as peripheral vision that operators don’t have when working remotely.
However, none of this is possible without an efficient and reliable data link. With the changes in environment and movement of the ocean it is no longer feasible to rely on a single connection source. Companies have started looking at different communications solutions like LTE/4G beyond the line-of-sight technologies.
Having more than one communications option adds another level of reliability so that companies can do more mission-critical and challenging tasks as they move forward. Additionally, with the growth in the industry for automation on all levels and types of vehicles, having multiple connectivity options as well as security and reliability in those connections is paramount to operating efficiently and effectively. This might include hybrid systems that enable vessels to automatically switch to a new form of connectivity based on what is available.
Speedcast works closely with Oceaneering, a global provider of engineered products and services, to provide an offshore satellite link for the company to gather and distribute the vast amount of data it collects from various offshore assets.
What connectivity means
Remote connectivity has become a key growth area for Oceaneering. The company’s recent acquisition of an autonomous surface vessel company paired with its unmanned underwater system and the autonomous guided vehicle, which is being used by manufacturing companies such as Porsche and numerous theme parks, makes this partnership essential as it provides critical connectivity for their operations.
Oceaneering found that by streaming video and telemetry to the AUVs and ROVs, it could enhance operations in subsea environments while also centralizing management and monitoring of those jobs.
ROVs and AUVs allow operators to navigate in and around subsea equipment in low-visibility ocean environments. (Source: Speedcast)
Increasing employee safety
With this type of connectivity companies are able to automate different tasks on an offshore vessel and transfer those data to a centralized hub for monitoring and management. This allows companies to pull personnel from dangerous offshore environments on vessels, which inherently improves employee safety and morale. Furthermore, as an AUV or ROV swims throughout the water column, it is not necessary to have an operator sitting in the seat during a two-hour dive to the bottom. An operator can be summoned if an issue arises.
By transferring data collected to a centralized hub or onshore control center, companies are able to employ domain experts who would previously have been required to visit each site individually for areas like tooling and processing to monitor not just one but multiple operations from the control center, further increasing benefits and decreasing expenses for the operator and customer.
Bringing all of the data collected on vessels back to a centralized hub enables companies to create a common operating picture. This allows companies to leverage resources on land that they would not be able to leverage in an offshore environment. One very skilled individual can look at multiple projects around the world at the same time and provide that expertise in a real-time or near real-time basis through a singular interface.
For personnel this type of automation and centralized data monitoring reduces risk of harm and reduces costs for overall operation. The cost of putting someone on a helicopter, flying them out and getting them certified is typically 10 times what it costs to have that same expert onshore.
Centralizing data management and monitoring and having a set team of professionals reviewing and making decisions on business production and implementation also increases the standardization of a company’s operations. This reduces much of the cost that accumulates when different projects are run by different groups in various areas around the world.
When companies run projects out of the same control center, they can control how projects are being executed and make it easier to support and maintain the company standard. In short, if companies centralize the work that they do, it standardizes the work that gets done and becomes easier to support and maintain over the long term because the experts running these operations know how the project should be laid out to conduct the operation the same way each time.
The more data a company can bring in and monitor, the more it can drive technical growth opportunities like virtual reality and AR that can increase the reliability and efficiency of a company’s ROVs and AUVs.