AUTOTRACKER is a research and development project, funded in part with support from the EU, designed to develop and demonstrate the technologies necessary to perform high-speed, high-resolution and low-altitude pipeline inspection using an AUV. The project focus is for the vehicle to navigate close to a pipeline using a combination of existing positional information together with a range of real-time sensor data. The overall aim is to improve the quality of inspection data, whilst retaining the cost benefits of a single AUV based mission.
Over the past three years, AUTOTRACKER has been developed by a consortium of partners including research laboratories based at Heriot Watt University, National Technical University of Athens, and University of the Balearic Islands, together with Innovatum who supplied the pipetracker system and industrial partners BP and Alcatel Submarine Networks. Subsea 7 IRT provides the Geosub AUV system and associated technology including the multibeam and sidescan sonar systems together with integration engineering services.
Unlike conventional AUV surveys, where the vehicle’s mission is typically pre-programmed before deployment and the through-mission positioning accuracy maintained by updates transmitted from the surface vessel, AUTOTRACKER is capable of autonomously detecting a pipeline’s location and thereafter maintaining relative station to ensure optimal sensor coverage as the vehicle navigates along the pipeline. If anomalies are detected, the AUV can re-plan its current mission, within pre-programmed parameters, to collect additional inspection data at higher resolution, potentially reducing the need for further dive missions. Since the inspection is performed at low-altitude, AUTOTRACKER also incorporates a 3D collision avoidance system to ensure the safety of both the vehicle and subsea installations.
During the trials, simulation tools created a virtual pipeline within Peterhead Bay. This approach was used to confirm the correct operation of Geosub with the AUTOTRACKER module and to demonstrate its performance through mission re-planning and autonomous route corrections. The trials proved that the Geosub AUV can successfully track an unburied pipeline, and also tested the control procedures to re-acquire pipelines that move in and out of burial.
Vice President of Subsea 7’s IRT group, Ian Cobban, commented, “Subsea 7 and their consortium partners are extremely pleased with the successful completion of these surface tests and as such planning has now begun for the next set of trials, funded by BP as part of its research and development programme, which are scheduled for September 2004. The Geosub AUV will be fitted with the AUTOTRACKER modular system again and will be used in the field to track and inspect a real seabed pipeline, thereby clearly demonstrating the commercial capability of the system.”
Source: SubSea 7