An autonomous underwater vehicle being developed by Kawasaki Heavy Industries is scheduled to go on trial for the first time in the North Sea.
The submarine pipeline inspection with close eyes (Spice) vehicle is being tested in Japanese waters under the umbrella of the US’s long-running DeepStar programme, the aim of which is to catalyse development of technologies required to support deepwater exploration and production.
The trials of Spice, Kawasaki’s pathfinder second generation AUV, began late last year and are being funded by the Nippon Foundation.
They are expected to continue until March.
Energy Voice was told by Kawasaki Subsea (UK) managing director Minehiko Mukaida and colleague director Yohei Otsuki that the machine was likely to arrive in the North Sea region in May.
The plan is to test Spice in water depths to 200m.
EV understands that the trials location is still being considered.
Given the water depth required and the possibility that the trials might be run from a quayside rather than off a ship, it is believed the most likely location choices narrow down to the west of Norway or Scotland.
There is already a link with the Scottish west coast as the first ever Kawasaki AUV was tested at The Underwater Centre, Fort William, in 2017.
Those trials paved the way to for construction of a somewhat different Spice vehicle, which is equipped with an innovative manipulator arm and pipe tracking equipment.
Almost a year ago, Kawasaki revealed to EV that it was establishing a foot-hold in Aberdeen with a view to manufacturing Spice units and creating a rental stable.
But finding a suitable inspection, repair and maintenance partner and the right location for the 1,000sq m engineering, manufacturing and stabling facility is taking longer than originally anticipated.
However, Mukaida said he was confident that this would be achieved in the coming months.
Around 15-20 high-grade engineering and support staff jobs will be created with a view of building two to four AUVs a year.
The objective is still to self-manufacture a stable of around 15 units in five years.