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. 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 their magnetic-based pipetracker system and industrial partners BP and Alcatel Submarine Networks. Subsea 7 IRT provides the Geosub AUV system and associated technology including the multibeam echo-sounder 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 constraints, 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, Geosub was launched from shore and operated over Talisman’s 30” Piper/Claymore to Flotta pipeline. Fifteen missions were run 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 a pipeline in real time using the multibeam echo-sounder system. The missions were flown over sections of buried and unburied pipeline, and successfully tested the systems ability to continually monitor lines as they move from a buried to unburied condition and vice versa.
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 trials. The Geosub AUV fitted with the AUTOTRACKER modular system was used in the field to track and inspect a real seabed pipeline, thereby clearly demonstrating the commercial capability of the system.”
BP Subsea Engineer, Lee Billingham, commented, “This is an exciting step and brings the inspection AUV significantly closer to commercial reality.”
6 October 2004