Martek Marine, a major player in maritime drone applications, is much involved in innovation and testing on how UAS are being used in field of marine surveying and how this is impacting on ship operators and the maritime industry.
Martek Marine is currently working with several major classification societies, flag administrations and ship operators to develop or refine UAS strategies. It has been awarded a 2-year Remotely Piloted Aircraft Services (RPAS) contract from the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) as part of the world’s largest civilian maritime drone contract to date. The use of such technology may have many positive outcomes in reducing costs, enhancing processes, boosting safety and removing access challenges.
Originally developed for military use, UAS have been adapted to suit a wider range of applications and have soon grown in popularity. The extent to which drones are used in maritime applications is now expected to surpass that of the defence industry within the next 5 years.
According to the contract previously mentioned, issued in January 2017 by the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), drones will play a pivotal role in border control activities, search and rescue operations and monitoring of pollution, as well as the detection of illegal fishing and drug and people trafficking.
Applications of the UAS in the maritime industry
Cargo tank and hold inspections
Traditional methods for ship’s cargo tanks/holds inspections require costly set-up, long times and a high level of personal risk for the workers involved. Drone surveys have revolutionised such a demanding task.
Unique collision tolerant drones equipped with cameras and integral lighting system can deliver a full HD video, along with still images for inspections in minutes, without the need for personnel entry into the tank or hold. UAS surveys offer high quality reports safely and typically at a fraction of the price ship owners are used to paying. Moreover the risk of damage to the coating from staging is eliminated.
Drone services are already offered on all large internal tanks, on vessels such as Floating Production, Storage and Offloading (FPSO) units, bulk carriers and tankers. The largest players in the industry are already benefitting from UAS inspections, among which Chevron, DNV-GL, Maersk and BP.
External vessel inspections
DNV-GL, Lloyds Register and Maersk have all been investing in UAS technology and many other maritime operators are doing the same. Thanks to such technology, identifying substantial corrosion, significant deformation, fractures, damage, or other structural deterioration can be done easily and cost-effectively.
External inspections involve a primary screening of the vessel by the drone. This identifies any Points of Interest (POI) that require closer inspection, without the need for any access equipment. To do this, the drone is flown over the surface of the vessel using an automatic flight control system controlled by a human pilot. The drone automatically captures survey data, such as video and high-resolution images during the flight. The survey data is then transmitted to the system user, who then reviews the information to check for defects on the vessel’s exterior, such as peeling paintwork and dents.
Bathymetric survey via adapted LIDAR
Bathymetric surveys gather important information about the features of water bodies and their shorelines which is fundamental to navigational safety. The information is then published for use on nautical charts, meaning it’s absolutely critical that this information is accurate and remains up to date.
By measuring the time delay between the transmission of a pulse and its return signal, bathymetric Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR), the same technology which many autonomous road vehicles employ, here is used to determine water depth. Analysis of these pulses is used to establish shoreline elevations too and is especially useful when shorelines are complex and rugged, where surface vessels cannot operate
efficiently or safely due to rocks, kelp or breaking waves.
Bathymetric sensors developed for UAS are an emerging technology, allowing this type of survey to be carried out flexibly and at a fraction of the cost. Accurate data can now be acquired using these specialist sensors integrated into UAS. The latest technology has been developed to withstand storm force winds and heavy rain, snow and salt spray and, as technology advances, so does the duration of flight times, meaning more area can be covered in a smaller timeframe.