Photo: FlatFish subsea drone (Archive). Courtesy of Saipem

Shell, Petrobras assign inspection duty to Saipem subsea drone

Saipem has been contracted by Shell and Petrobras for the utilisation of its FlatFish subsea drone in two pilot projects involving the inspection campaigns of two ultra-deepwater fields offshore Brazil, operated by the two energy companies.

The two projects with Shell and Petrobras are pilots within the framework of the research and development program of ANP, the Brazilian National Agency of Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels.

The pilots aim to qualify the drone to execute unmanned, vessel-free inspections to support the monitoring and maintenance campaigns of the subsea infrastructures.

As explained, Saipem implemented the FlatFish drone through the industrialisation phase with the ultimate objective of unlocking deepwater operations, over 2,000-metre depth for this particular contract, enhancing its artificial intelligence-based features as well as its navigation and monitoring capabilities.

Under the contract, the activities will be led by Sonsub, Saipem’s centre of excellence for underwater technologies and robotics, over a timeframe of approximately 12 months.

The first phase will include intermediate tests in shallow water to be executed at Saipem’s base in Trieste, Italy, with the support of Sonsub’s engineering department in Brazil.

In the second phase, the drone will be deployed within Brazilian waters in the third quarter of 2022.

This contract is said to confirm Saipem’s drive for technological development in subsea robotics and advanced automation and is seen as an important cornerstone of its search for low-carbon, competitive and cost-effective solutions.

FlatFish subsea drone

FlatFish is a remotely-controlled subsea-resident autonomous underwater drone able to perform complex inspection tasks of a wide range of underwater assets.

Since 2018, Shell has entrusted Saipem with the license to develop the FlatFish technology.

The technology was previously developed by SENAI CIMATEC, a Brazilian research institute, in partnership with DFKI, the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence, and funded by the R&D program of ANP and the Brazilian Company of Research and Industrial Innovation (EMBRAPII).

The FlatFish is one of the three products in Saipem’s Hydrone Program that aims to change the paradigm of underwater inspections and interventions through a fleet of drones and auxiliary latest generation infrastructures that use the latest technologies available on the market. 

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The other two products in the program are the Hydrone-R and the Hydrone-W which were due to complete their test phase in 2021.

Back in October 2021, Saipem also entered into a cooperation agreement with WSense, an Italian start-up, for developing complex communication networks for subsea drones.

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