Cleaning ship hulls with a robot

This is the goal of a EU-funded project called HISMAR (Hull Identification System for Marine Autonomous Robotics). European researchers and engineers are working on an automated robotic cleaning system that removes marine growth from the hull of a ship. By cleaning a ship's hull, this robot will allow ships to travel through the water more efficiently by cutting down on drag -- and of course reducing fuel costs. The researchers said this robot acts like a vacuum cleaner -- in or out of the water. A prototype will be shown next week at the Shipbuilding, Machinery and Marine Technology Conference in Hamburg, Germany (SMM 2008). But read more...

This is the goal of a EU-funded project called HISMAR (Hull Identification System for Marine Autonomous Robotics). European researchers and engineers are working on an automated robotic cleaning system that removes marine growth from the hull of a ship. By cleaning a ship's hull, this robot will allow ships to travel through the water more efficiently by cutting down on drag -- and of course reducing fuel costs. The researchers said this robot acts like a vacuum cleaner -- in or out of the water. A prototype will be shown next week at the Shipbuilding, Machinery and Marine Technology Conference in Hamburg, Germany (SMM 2008). But read more...

A HISMAR robot attached to the ship's hull

You can see above a picture of a HISMAR robot which moves at a speed of 0.48 meter/second along the ship's hull. It "is magnetically attached to the ship's side and sent off on its journey of the hull, following a planned route and cleaning as it goes." (Credit: HISMAR project)

Here are additional details about this robot. "First a map of the hull is automatically charted, recording the location of every weld, thickness change, rivet and indentation on the ship's surface. Adjustable jets of pressurised sea water blast the marine growth off the surface of the ship which is then sucked up into the main chamber. Here, 150 litres of water a minute is filtered and the bio-fouling removed and rendered harmless to the local environment. In this way, the ship's robotic 'vacuum' can continuously roam the ship's hull, preventing the build up of slime and allowing it to travel through the water efficiently by cutting down on drag. This significantly reduces fuel consumption and also pollution such as the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide."

Newcastle University's Professor Tony Roskilly is leading the project and shares some of his thoughts here. "Marine growth on ships is a huge environmental and financial problem for the marine industry and HISMAR offers a unique solution to both of these -- and more. What we have created is a system that works totally independently -- in or out of the water -- and not only keeps the ship clean but also feeds back vital information about the hull's condition. Because the map it follows is so detailed, if there is a change to its path caused by corrosion or a crack in the steel then it feeds this information back. This means it can be used as an additional check on the seaworthiness of the ship's hull or highlight potential future problems."

Another researcher on the project at Newcastle University, Jonathan Heslop, provides more explanations. "All other developed cleaning or inspection systems currently available are remotely controlled during their operation, requiring highly skilled and experienced operators to effectively clean the hull, while the ship is out of operation and usually out of the water. The advantage of the HISMAR robot is that it is an autonomous system so it can continue cleaning with the ship remaining in service -- feeding back hull information as it does so -- resulting in very little build up of slime, reduced fuel costs and much less pollution."

Now, here is a link to general information about the EU-funded HISMAR project, which started in November 2005 and will end in April 2009. The EU provided €1.2 million while the project cost is estimated to be around €1.7 million.

And here is an excerpt of the objectives of this project. "The platform can be launched whenever the vessel is in port or at anchor. The device will be able to complete its tasks partially whilst in one port and be re-launched at successive points to complete the task. The generic platform will offer the option of using targeted plug-in modules to perform specific inspection or maintenance tasks such as structural integrity monitoring of the ships hull or carrying out cleaning and waste recovery operations.This project offers a means to effectively and efficiently undertake hull inspection and maintenance thereby extending the safe working life of the vessel. Cleaning of the hull ensures the vessel maintains the lowest possible resistance which has an extremely large impact on the hydrocarbon fuel consumed. Therefore ensuring a clean and smooth vessel surface reduces vessel e missions and reduces operating costs."

For more technical information, here is a selection of documents to read.

If you are in Germany next week, the HISMAR robotic platform will be shown at the SMM 2008 conference. Presentations will be done on the Newcastle University booth and on the Poland-based copmany Polski Rejestr Statków one.

Sources: Newcastle University news release, September 17, 2008; and various websites

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