There is a growing need for remote services, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions for traveling, to inspect ships and other industrial assets. Regular inspections are required to ensure the safety of the assets. Remote inspections will enable less intrusive and more flexible inspection regimes. They will therefore reduce inspection costs. Robot-based inspections will enable more objective, consistent, standardized inspections and reporting, hopefully also contributing to an increased inspection quality. Drone robots also reduce the need for humans to enter ship tanks which are dirty and dangerous environments. Accidents still happen. Thus, using robots instead of humans in these environments improve human safety. However, making drone robots that can do an inspection job that is equivalent to a trained human inspector is no trivial task. New technologies need to be developed. This includes micro-drones that can enter and navigate in very narrow ballast water tanks; artificial intelligence-based computer vision that can detect damages on a level equal to trained inspectors, and all the surrounding infrastructure required for new, digital inspection processes.
The project is led by DNV, a leading classification society and innovator, in partnership with Altera Infrastructure, a shuttle tanker operator in this project, Klaveness, a bulk carrier operator in this project, Scout Drone Inspection, a start-up drone service supplier, and NTNU's department for cybernetics.
One year into the project, the project partners have made good progress towards being able to perform a prototype remote drone inspection at the end of 2023. Some selected achievements are presented in the following paragraphs.
DNV has achieved measurable progress in the performance of defect detection algorithms. The performance of the corrosion detection algorithm has been compared with that of human surveyors. The algorithm is now at a level where it is considered to have a performance on par with human surveyors when evaluating single images with regards to the corrosion coating condition.
Scout Drone Inspection has developed a simulator where we can do drone flights in simulated environments of the vessel tanks to be inspected. This will in 2022 be a great sandbox environment for developing and experimenting with a new survey process and demonstrating drone autonomy algorithms.
The team at NTNU working with exploration and inspection of ballast tanks have made considerable improvements to the exploration, location, and mapping algorithms. The same technology that is used for ballast tank inspection, was also used in the drones that was used when they were part of the winning team in the DARPA Subterranean Challenge.
Existing requirements for remote inspection have been identified, and suggested improvements for the inspection process has been discussed with ship owners Klaveness and Altera. This is important input for the new survey process that is being developed.
REDHUS will demonstrate a remote ship cargo hold/tank survey, based on a new survey process utilizing new automated drone inspection technologies and new automated analysis technologies of drone inspection video data for the ship structure. By making the proposed survey a future standard procedure, DNV GL expects more loyal customers and will enable economic gains for ship owners and ship managers by more flexible and less costly surveys, and at the same time opening up market opportunities for drone services suppliers.
REDHUS is proposed today to respond to a growing need for remote services, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and relating restrictions to access industrial assets for traditional inspection, as well as previously existing but largely unmet customer needs for less intrusive, more flexible survey campaigns and more consistent, standardized reporting for international fleets. By developing new technologies, and eventually demonstrating a remote drone-based ship cargo hold/tank survey in real-life conditions, REDHUS will enable drone-based ship hull inspection as industrial standard and realize economic and health, safety benefits.
The key technology developments, building blocks, to enable the above are:
A. Automated generation and verification of drone inspection flight plan, based on metrics and simulation
B. Automated execution of drone flight , new guidelines for drone inspection and data standard
C. Automated analysis of inspection data/video for cracks , corrosion, coating damage, deformation, leakage detachment and display of findings such that remote surveyor becomes situationally aware
D. A new survey process to maximize benefits from remote data collection and automated analysis
E. A new micro drone technology capable of navigating through confined ballast water tanks