Posted | Friday 30th March, 2012
Scientists from Heriot-Watt University in Scotland are heading up a pan-European project to create the most advanced, autonomous and cognitive robot, which could dramatically reduce the cost of underwater monitoring operations for the oil and gas industry.
The team from the Ocean Systems Laboratory (OSL) at Heriot-Watt is designing a new approach to computational cognition for use in Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs), with the aim of significantly improving the inspection, repair and maintenance reliability of vehicles used for underwater monitoring.
The system, named PANDORA: Persistent Autonomy through learNing, aDaptation, Observation and Re-planning will be trialled on three different AUVs in Scotland and Spain and in-lab and deep water conditions, to test the system on vehicles and monitor its ability to operate in ‘real’ environments, overcome challenges, accommodate hardware failures and seek alternative missions when idle.
Following the Deep Water Horizon crisis in 2010, calls were made to dramatically improve the type and intelligence of vehicles used for underwater inspection and intervention, to reduce the likelihood for events of that scale happening again. The European Commission issued a call for ideas on how to increase the thinking capacity of robots, supported by the provision of significant funding for viable projects. Identifying the opportunity to put their expertise to the test, a team of scientists, headed up by Professor David Lane, Founder of SeeByte, a Heriot-Watt spin-out company applied to the Commission with a comprehensive, three year research plan to create and develop Pandora for global commercial use. Their plan was the highest praised out of all responses and the team was duly awarded €2.8M (£2.3M).
Professor Lane explained the background to the project: “The issue with autonomous robots is that they are not very good at being autonomous. They often get stuck or ask for help and generally only succeed in familiar environments or when carrying out simple tasks. Over the next three years, our challenge is to develop a computational program, which will enable robots to recognize failure and have the intelligence to respond to it. “We will develop and evaluate new computational methods to make human-built robots persistently autonomous, significantly reducing the frequency of assistance requests. This is an exceptionally exciting time for us and we are delighted with the response we had from the European Commission, which has allowed us to progress with our research.” Libor Král, Head of Unit, Cognitive Systems and Robotics, DG Information Society and Media, European Commission, said: “PANDORA is a particularly exciting robotics project undertaken by top European experts. “The researchers have identified a real issue in an underwater environment where cutting-edge technology can help solve challenging problems. The European Commission is delighted to be supporting this latest addition to its portfolio of over 100 projects, within the EU’s research seventh framework program.”
The project is being run in partnership with five universities across Europe – Instituto Italiano di Tecnologia, University of Girona, King’s College London and National Technical University of Athens, with steering committee members from BP and SubSea7.
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