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Offshore energy robotics researcher ORCA Hub secures £2.5m funding boost

© Supplied by ORCA HubThe ORCA Hub has received a funding boost.
The ORCA Hub has received a funding boost.

A consortium researching how robots could make offshore infrastructure inspection and repair safer has received a £2.5 million cash injection from UK Research & Innovation (UKRI).

The ORCA Hub, led by the Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh universities, will use £600,000 to deliver six demonstration projects with industrial partners.

These include the inspection of wind turbine foundations and the deployment of Industrial Internet of Things sensors.

The remaining £1.9m will be used to see if technologies developed by ORCA can be applied in other sectors, such as construction, urban infrastructure, decommissioning and waste management.

ORCA was founded in 2017 and also includes Imperial College London and the Liverpool and Oxford universities.

Its aim is to help the offshore energy industry use robots to safely inspect, maintain and repair platforms, wind turbines, and other infrastructure, guided by human experts on ships or back on shore.

It sits within the National Robotarium, a separate partnership between Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh University, funded through the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal.

Yvan Petillot, professor of robotics and autonomous systems at Heriot-Watt University and co-academic lead of the National Robotarium, has been appointed as ORCA’s new director, taking over from David Lane.

Prof Petillot said: “Robots have the potential to carry out inspection and maintenance in hazardous environments, reducing the risks of putting divers into the water in harsh conditions or workers operating at height on wind turbines.

“Finding ways to combine the flexibility of autonomous robots with remote human operators has been one of the key strands in my career over the past 20 years.

“The international offshore energy industry is undergoing a revolution, adopting aggressive net-zero objectives, and shifting rapidly towards large scale offshore wind energy production.

He added: “The long-term industry vision is for a digitised offshore energy field, operated, inspected and maintained from the shore using robots, digital architectures and cloud-based processes to realise this vision.”

A series of webinars exploring the work of the National Robotarium launches on 17 June 10.30-11.30. The National Robotarium presents…opens with The ORCA Hub & the future of offshore energy, examining how robotics and technologies can be utilised offshore and in other industries.

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