Japan-based manufacturing multinational Kawasaki Heavy Industries has signed an agreement with The Underwater Centre (TUC), a marine testing facility in Fort William, Scotland, to test a prototype of its autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) designed with a robot arm to enable inspections of subsea pipelines.

The first of its verification tests is set to be performed in October this year, with plans for commercialisation of the AUV in fiscal year 2020.

Kawasaki is devising the device to allow underwater charging and the transfer of inspection data to the mother ship. These capabilities are expected to ensure longer deployment duration.

The AUV will also be capable of autonomous location and tracking of pipelines at close range, even the ones under seabed sediment.

Kawasaki already carried out a verification test in November last year at TUC to assess a prototype AUV for automated underwater docking to its charging station. The test included contactless charging and optical communication on a large capacity.

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"The AUV will also be capable of autonomous location and tracking of pipelines at close range, even the ones under seabed sediment."

The latest test will involve an AUV prototype with a robot arm that will feature an attached inspection tool unit, intended for autonomous locating and tracking of subsea pipelines.

This test will aim to validate the ability of the robotic arm to absorb the AUV movement caused by tidal currents. It will also verify the inspection tool unit’s capability to continuously track a pipeline under such conditions.

TUC commercial director Steve Ham said: “TUC has been really delighted to support KHI during the testing of their AUV in our seawater test site.

“We have built up a very good relationship over the development and delivery of the project and we look forward to welcoming them back to Fort William later this year and in future.”

The agreement also covers future partnerships between Kawasaki and TUC on underwater vehicle technology.

Kawasaki expects the agreement to support its goal to boost alliance with the Scottish Government and TUC for the development of AUVs and other underwater vehicle technologies.