The University of Twente and its partners from the German-Dutch region, have successfully developed a ballast tank inspecting-robot called RoboShip to reduce costs and enhance safety of docked ships.
According to current estimates, manually inspecting a ship’s ballast water tanks aren’t just extremely dangerous, but also exorbitantly pricey with costs mounting to nothing less than $869,000 per inspection.
A ship’s ballast water tanks are either filled with seawater or are left empty. Seawater is extremely aggressive and attacks steel. This is why regular inspection from within is required. Current practice is for a group of six inspectors to carry out such inspections. In doing so, they run the risk of injury through falls or of breathing in noxious gases. And this is exactly why the multidisciplinary autonomous RoboShip project could put an end to such risks within the shipping industry.
The independent, intelligent robotic platform on rails greatly improves the efficiency of ballast tank inspections; inspectors can now evaluate the data transmitted on a screen outside of the ballast water tank, considerably reducing the overall time required for inspecting a ship.
According to the project’s researchers, the time most liners need to spend in dock can also be considerably reduced as tank inspections can take place while the ship is still in operation. Any repairs required can then be scheduled in before the ship goes to dry dock. Having a ship in dock is, after all, an expensive business, with costs running into the hundreds of thousands of euros.
In the future, when the energy supply through the rails has been further improved, the robot will be able to work on the ballast water tank’s surfaces using a laser. It will then be able to remove paint residues, for example, and it will also become possible to clean and coat the tanks, the engineers said in a press release.
Thanks to the RoboShip’s advanced technical expertise, operators can now determine the exact position of the robot within the ballast water tanks based on a magnetic field. Other notable developments include a simple way of building synthetic rails into ships, an improvement to the supply of energy through the rails and advanced communication and navigation systems.
The parties involved in the RoboShip project brought together a number of innovations in it: Germany’s Imotech, for example, developed a smart, cost-efficient rail, while robotics innovation expert DFKI was responsible for an autonomous vehicle to run along the rails. The INCAS³ research institute developed the sensor system for RoboShip’s arm, and 3D motion tracking company Xsens designed the tank navigation system.
The University of Twente was responsible for ensuring that a thorough inspection of the ballast water tanks was carried out using the equipment. Doctoral degree candidate Dian Borgerink from Twente’s Robotics and Mechatronics department developed the build-on robotic arm for RoboShip, working together with the department’s chairman, Stefano Stramigioli, and master’s student Jop Huttenhuis. The Meyer Werft shipyard in Germany has also joined the project and will be integrating RoboShip into the ships it builds.
RoboShip is a part of the latest generation of robots from the German-Dutch SmartBot umbrella project stable. SmartBot focuses on the extremely rapid evolution of robots. Recent developments in sensor technology, ICT and robotics have made the new generation of robots capable of carrying out complex tasks autonomously and with great precision. SmartBot also includes robotic platforms for the agricultural sector (AgroBot) and the industrial sector (SinBot).
Image courtesy of University of Twente.