Sectors - Civil

ORCA Hub Secures £2.5m in Funding

The ORCA Hub, a strategic project led by the National Robotarium, has secured a further £2.5 million in funding to help with its research within the robotics research industry.

The Hub, which is using robots to make offshore infrastructure inspection safer, is moving one step closer to its target thanks to the funding injection from UK Research & Innovation (UKRI).

Founded in 2017 and led by Herriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh, the ORCA Hub includes Imperial College London as well as Liverpool and Oxford Universities. It supports energy transition and the growth of renewable energy.

Working with industry partners, the Hub’s main 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 either on ship or back on shore.

£600,000 of the new funding will be used to help deliver six demonstration projects with industrial partners, including the inspection of wind turbine foundations and the deployment of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) sensors.

The remaining £1.9 million will fund an extension of ORCA Hub’s activities to see if technologies and processes developed by the Hub can be used in other sectors, ranging from construction and urban infrastructure through to decommissioning and waste management.

Yvan Petillot, ORCA Hub’s new director, 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.

“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. However, the recent pandemic has highlighted a widespread need for remote operations in many other industrial sectors.

“The ORCA Hub has built a community of roboticists and expertise during its initial phase. This funding extension aims to accelerate the translation of the research into our existing industry network, working with companies including Wood, EDF and Ross Robotics, while expanding into new sectors by adapting the current research and tackling the novel challenges these sectors bring.”

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