Marine-i and Feritech to develop geotechnical AUV

Marine-i has agreed to support Feritech Global in its plan to develop an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) designed for geotechnical surveying.

Feritech core sampling equipment in action off the coast of Africa. (Image: Feritech Global)

Based in Falmouth, Cornwall, marine engineering specialist Feritech carries out geotechnical survey work for the marine industry using equipment designed and operated by its own team. Marine tech start-up Marine-i, part funded by the European Regional Development fund, aims to support the marine tech sector in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly through research, development and innovation.

Rob Ferris, managing director of Feritech, explained that detailed subsea surveys are required in challenging sea conditions for offshore assets such as the floating offshore wind sector. 

“Offshore operators worldwide are continually looking for ways to reduce the risks and costs associated with geotechnical sampling operations,” he said. “If successful, this innovation would also have a powerful ripple effect on the local supply chain, because Feritech’s goal is to have as many of the components as possible manufactured in the UK.”

While using autonomous vessels to carry out geophysical survey work is gaining traction, Marine-i programme director Professor Lars Johanning explained that to date, deep water AUVs have mainly been small inspection vehicles focused on geophysical data gathering. 

Wave-powered renewable energy for subsea projects

Q&A: uncrewed evolution under Fugro and SEA-KIT

“We now want to design an autonomous solution for geotechnical surveys,” said Ferris. “Such a vessel would need to be large in size to accommodate equipment for taking core samples of the seabed and for carrying out activities such as cone penetration testing and heat flow testing.” 

The research will involve support from renewable energy specialists at Exeter and Plymouth Universities, and the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult. The first stages of the project will be to specify the precise industry standards that the vessel must comply with, and the exact tool requirements that the vessel needs to carry — one key area of this will be to take core samples of the seabed for lab analysis.

Following this will be the design of the vessel itself, together with an umbilical to connect it to the ‘mother ship’ for remote operation, and the design of the control systems to convert traditionally human-operated geotechnical sampling systems into systems that can be remotely operated. Feritech said that the aim is to have a pre-commercialisation demonstrator built by the end of the year, ready for sea trials in early 2022.

“This is exactly the kind of innovative, disruptive technology that Marine-i was set up to support,” said Johanning. “Feritech’s concept could revolutionise the way in which geotechnical work is carried out. By helping reduce risk and costs for developers, it will help accelerate the growth of floating offshore wind in the Celtic Sea, generating a positive economic impact on the local supply chain.”