Photo: University of Houston

Saab Falcon stars in Houston University’s pipeline leak solution

The University of Houston has developed a new underwater pipeline inspection system, using a Saab Seaeye Falcon robot as a development platform, which is said to represent a “breakthrough” in leak risk detection at oil pipe flanges.

The SmartTouch solution includes integrating innovative robotic manipulator controls into the Falcon that provide multiple stress wave sensors for touch-based inspection of bolted joints, along with the latest structural health monitoring and inspection technologies.

Video cameras and scanning sonars are also integrated into the system.

According to the University of Houston, the difficulty of locating flanges at risk makes their timely inspection key to the prevention of oil spills, thus finding a time-efficient and cost-effective robotic solution to identifying flanges at risk was the key objective as bolted flanges can loosen when ocean dynamics shift pipelines.

“The testing results have demonstrated the reliability and performance of the Falcon in meeting the needs of the SmartTouch underwater pipeline inspection system,” said Dr. Zheng Chen, assistant professor in Mechanical Engineering and director of bio-inspired robotics, who led the research.

“The SmartTouch robotic system can totally automate and dramatically reduce the cost and risk of subsea inspection, leading to safer operations of offshore oil and gas pipelines.”

The Falcon is a meter-sized, multi-tasking vehicle with depth rated to 300 meters, five powerful thrusters, and intelligent control.

It features Saab Seaeye’s iCON future-flexible intelligent control system and is said to be able to handle strong currents whilst fully loaded with cameras, sensors, and tools.

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