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Robotics Technology for Inspection of Ships

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - ROBINS (Robotics Technology for Inspection of Ships)

Reporting period: 2019-07-01 to 2021-06-30

The ROBINS project aimed at filling the technology and regulatory gaps representing a barrier to the adoption of Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) in activities related to inspection of ships.
The project focused mainly, as operational scenarios, to the inspections in bulk carrier holds and ballast tanks, since these use cases are representative of a wide variety of applications and can significantly benefit of the technologies developed.
In these environments, scaffoldings, cherry pickers and portable ladders are often needed for carrying out the required inspection tasks and the preparation is generally time-consuming, expensive and may cause damage to the coating. Furthermore, the surveyor is often required to access in hazardous or hard to reach areas (e.g. high or very narrow spaces).
The adoption of RAS can simplify the preparation required for the inspection, with potential reduction of costs, and make safer the operations, since the need of a physical access in hazardous areas is reduced.
However, a technological gap was found to be filled to give final users suitable means to consider inspection operated through RAS equivalent to those obtained by traditional procedures.
In order to address this gap, the project identified the following objectives:
- Improve the ability of RAS in sensing and probing;
- Improve capabilities in navigation and localization in confined spaces, access to and mobility within the environment;
- Improve safety and dependability of RAS in hazardous, harsh and dirty environments;
- Provide tools with special focus on the production of 3D models for virtual tours in augmented reality.
On the normative side, international standards, recognized and accepted by stakeholders and authorities, are still in progress and need to be finalized. Stable standards are a precondition to stimulate the European robotics industry and unleash the economic potential of new markets.
Concerning the regulatory aspects relevant to the use of RAS in ship inspection, the project set the following objectives:
- Provide a framework for the assessment of equivalence between the outcomes of RAS-assisted ship inspections and traditional inspection procedures, based on an evaluation of compliance of RAS platforms with a well-defined and limited set of requirements;
- Define criteria, testing procedures and metrics for the evaluation of RAS performance in terms of safety, functionality, dependability, security, data quality, economic viability;
- Design, implement and assess a testing environment where repeatable tests and measurements can be performed for the evaluation of compliance of RAS with the requirements;
- By means of the Testing Facility, provide to SMEs operating in the robotics industry a low-cost alternative/complement to expensive and difficult on-board field trials, where extensive test campaigns can be carried out aimed at facilitating the developments in technology for ship inspection.
In WP1 an analysis of the operational scenarios and use cases, including a risk assessment for the employment of RAS platforms in ship inspection, has been carried out.
WP2 involved the design and implement of a testing environment (Testing Facility) where repeatable tests and measurements can be performed for the evaluation of compliance of RAS with the requirements. The Testing Facility has been also set up for allowing remote testing activities.
In WP3 a collision-tolerant drone has been developed to be employed mainly in complex confined spaces, like ballast tanks, enabling a surveyor to perform visual inspection remotely. The development focused particularly on the improvement of the drone sensing and control, to improve the ease of use for the operator and to allow more accurate and efficient data capture.
WP4 focused on the development of a drone intended for the visual inspection of cargo holds and cargo tanks, which are characterized by wide volumes with significant heights. The focus of the platform control software is on providing enhanced functionality and autonomy for the inspection processes.
WP5 was focused instead on the design and development of a crawler platform for NDT measurements, able to reach the points of interest inside cargo holds, perform contact thickness measurements and report measurements in global coordinates. The crawler was also upgraded with remote operation capabilities.
In WP6 software tools for the rendering of 3D VR environments, defect recognition and processing of inspection data have been developed.
WP7 was dedicated to testing and demonstration activities, both in the Testing Facility and onboard ships. Remote experimental sessions were also arranged.
WP8 developed an assessment of effectiveness of the Testing Facility as a low-cost alternative/complement to expensive and difficult on-board field trials for RAS platforms. The overall performance of the Testing Facility as an instrument for the certification of RAS used in ship inspections has been assessed.
WP9 was focused on the evaluation of the fit-for-purpose and performances of the robotic platforms and of the related software tools. The assessment of operational safety and equivalence with the traditional inspection procedures was particularly important. A cost benefit analysis has been also performed.
The overall concept of the ROBINS project is that equivalence between the outcomes of remote inspections carried out by means of Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) and those obtained by traditional procedures can be achieved only if the following requirements are satisfied:
- Sensing and probing capabilities of RAS are at least as good as the corresponding human personal, direct, sensory experience, or provide equivalent or richer information;
- RAS have the capability to access and adequately explore confined spaces where the inspection is required or desirable, including the capability to detect or devise its own position and orientation, and hazardous, harsh or dirty conditions can be found;
- RAS performance in terms of safety, functionality, dependability and economic viability can be measured, assessed and verified in the required operational scenarios;
- The data collected can be securely acquired, transmitted, archived, maintained and used, with special concern to confidentiality, integrity and availability;
- Pictures, videos or thickness measurement are made available to end users by means of software tools capable of providing detailed information with adequate presentation and analysis tools.
These developments in robotics technology and software tools and a comprehensive assessment of RAS platforms capabilities are expected to remove, or significantly reduce, existing barriers that still prevent the adoption of robotics technology in this domain.
The main advantages in the employment of RAS in ship inspection are the simplified preparation of items to be inspected, with potential reduction of costs, and the safer inspection operation, since the Surveyor is not required to physically access in hazardous or hard to reach areas (e.g. high or very narrow spaces).
The development of testing protocols to be implemented in a Testing Facility is expected to reduce obstacles and costs for the development of new technologies and functionalities, increasing the opportunities to extend the range of application to new operational scenarios and to disclose new potential markets to robotics industry.
Autonomous flight capabilities for inspection of cargo holds
Section A of the Testing Facility for robotic technologies validation
Aerial platform for irregular confined spaces
Crawler platform for NDT measurements