New €2m marine robot to safeguard Ireland’s offshore energy infrastructure

23 Apr 2018

The ROV Étaín being lowered into the Atlantic Ocean. Image: Sean Curtin/True Media

To maintain Ireland’s growing offshore renewable energy network, a new €2m robot has been launched that will patrol its sites to make repairs to devices.

Given the less-than-calm nature of the waters off the coast of western Ireland, the offshore renewable energy sector could struggle to reach a generator if the weather was particularly bad, potentially putting an engineer at risk.

But what if there was another safer, robotic solution?

Today (23 April), the University of Limerick (UL) and the Minister of State for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection Pat Breen, TD, unveiled a €2m remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) dubbed Étaín.

The Science Foundation Ireland-funded craft is designed to operate in challenging wind, wave and tidal conditions, and will be used to inspect, repair and maintain marine renewable energy facilities.

The robot was developed at UL’s Centre for Robotics and Intelligence Systems with its own advanced control software called OceanRings, allowing for precision navigation and flight control, robotic imaging and sonar systems, and fully automated manipulator systems.

The MaREI robotics lab at UL leads operations support engineering projects with industry partners such as Shannon Foynes Port Company, ESB, Ireland’s National Space Centre, SonarSim, Teledyne, Resolve Marine, CIL and IDS Monitoring, among others.

Boon to renewables sector

“The advanced robotics technology developed at UL will be crucial in supporting the burgeoning marine renewable energy sector,” said UL president Dr Des Fitzgerald.

“It will also play a significant role in reducing the cost of installing and maintaining large-scale offshore energy generation infrastructure. As the worldwide marine renewable energy sector grows, UL’s research contribution in this area will have even greater impact.”

Meanwhile, speaking from the State’s perspective, Minister Breen added: “Internationally, the offshore renewable energy sector is set to rapidly grow, which will help to reduce carbon emissions and arrest climate change.

“Ireland has the best wind and wave resources in Europe and it is vital that, as an island nation, we invest and engage in research in the area of marine energy technology.”

The country has experienced huge growth in the area of marine renewable energy in recent years, particularly at the beginning of this year with a series of major deals announced.

This included the announcement of the €11m Funding Ocean Renewable Energy through Strategic European Action (FORESEA) programme, receiving funding for six developers of offshore renewable energy technologies in Ireland.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic