ORCA Hub secures £2.5M to help offshore energy industry use robots to inspect, maintain, and repair platforms

ORCA Hub Image credits: ORCA Hub

The Offshore Robotics for the Certification of Assets (ORCA) Hub is a research programme developing Robotics, AI, and Autonomous Systems for the offshore sector.

Recently, the ORCA Hub secured £2.5 million in funding from UK Research & Innovation (UKRI).

How will the funding be used?

According to the press release, £600K will be used to fund industry projects e.g. to inspect wind turbine foundations and deploy Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) sensors.

The remaining £1.9 million will be used to expand robotics research into new sectors from construction and urban infrastructure through to decommissioning and waste management.

The first project will see a robot deployed on construction sites, collecting data and measurements in real-time. 

This will allow multiple parties to access the data, understanding the construction process, and allowing companies to identify new efficiencies, potential hazards, and quality control measures.

What is ORCA Hub?

Founded in 2017, the ORCA Hub is led by the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics (Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh), in collaboration with Imperial College London, the Universities of Oxford, and Liverpool, and over thirty industry partners.

The Hub aims to help the offshore energy industry use robots to inspect, maintain and repair platforms, wind turbines, and other infrastructure with human guidance. 

Yvan Petillot appointed as new director

As a part of the funding round, Yvan Petillot, professor of robotics and autonomous systems at Heriot-Watt University and co-academic lead of the National Robotarium, has been appointed as the ORCA Hub’s new director.

He takes over from Professor David Lane, founding director of the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, who will continue to support the Hub as an advisor to its independent steering committee.

Professor Petillot said: “The ORCA Hub has built a community of roboticists and expertise during its initial phase. This funding extension aims to accelerate the translation of the research into our existing industry network, working with companies including Wood, EDF, and Ross Robotics, while expanding into new sectors by adapting the current research and tackling the novel challenges these sectors bring.”

Professor David Lane added: “Since the ORCA Hub was launched, its successes have been wide-ranging from launching tech that can help humans and robots to speak the same language to autonomous drones that can inspect offshore turbines.

“However, research of this type can only have an impact if it is driven by and addresses specific industry needs. Significant industry engagement has been achieved since 2017 with 68 individual research projects, Ph.D. sponsorships, user engagements, and supply of equipment, hardware, software, data, and asset samples taking place with a further 16 projects currently in discussion or pending approval with an estimated value of over £6M. We’ve spun-out a company and two more are in the process of spin-out, alongside two patent applications enabling developments to be licensed to companies.”

Simon Reeve, chair of the ORCA Hub’s Independent Steering Committee, said “The Hub’s success to date has been greatly helped by the contributions of a wide range of specialists overseeing its strategic direction. An international scientific panel supported the early stages of the Hub, while an industry panel reviews and guides the application of the new technologies. Our Independent Steering Committee is made up of international specialists representing government, public and private sector organisations across a wide range of sectors providing a fresh perspective and the best possible support to achieving the Hub’s objectives.”

Andrew Tyrer, Challenge Director – Robotics, Industrial Strategy Research Fund, said: “The funding is crucial to widening the scope of our work. With net-zero ambitions underlying industrial plans in every sector, and the chance to rebuild new industries after the pandemic, robotics, AI and automation are vital ingredients for the future.”