By Phumpetch Roumjit
Thailand will have, by 2017, its own underwater robotic technology that will be used in undersea operations such as oil-pipeline maintenance and oil-spill detection, it has been announced.
News of the development came after PTT Exploration and Production signed a memorandum of understanding last week with Kasetsart University’s Faculty of Engineering to undertake research and development on the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV).
Underwater vehicle technologies are mainly used in the oil industry for deep-sea exploration and pipeline inspections.
The AUV will conduct less complicated missions such as searching for objects.
The research will focus on developing the AUV in the hope the prototype will be able to operate repair missions in real working environments and conditions.
Pongsatorn Thavisin, PTT’s Development and Engineering Group executive vice president, said the AUV would be more in demand when an exploration shifted to deep water.
He said pipeline inspections and repairs had to be done quickly so as to prevent an accident that could damage the environment.
But at the moment, he said the company had to rely on technology from foreign experts.
If this joint effort were successful, the company would be able to use the robot and reduce the cost of hiring services from a foreign company. The research would also benefit students as they would get the chance to work on developing the new technology.
PTT is also financially supporting KU’s underwater robot team, SKUBA, so it can participate in the 18th annual International RoboSub Competition in San Diego in July next year. The team consists of 15 students from different fields such as mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer engineering.
The competition aims to advance AUV development by challenging a new generation of engineers to perform realistic missions in an underwater environment. In 2013, the SKUBA team made the semi-final.
Assistant Prof Yodyium Tipsuwan, from the university’s Faculty of Engineering and the team’s adviser, said Thailand was still inexperienced in this technology.
“Without support, it will be impossible to conduct this research since the cost is too high,” he said. “It is a good opportunity for Thai students to improve their knowledge about engineering from this technology.”
He said the continuous support of PTT would allow KU to add more functions such as a sonar censor and make the robot more effective.
Kandis Wongsuwan, a third-year engineering student at the university, said it was a valuable experience developing a high-tech robot like he did for RoboSub.
“We were so lucky to have a chance to build the AUV from the ground up,” he said.
“We also entered the RoboSub competition and exchanged knowledge with students from other countries. It was an unforgettable experience.”
Kandis said the high cost of the research was a major obstacle, adding the team still had little knowledge and experience with this technology.
“With more knowledge and support, we will be able to win [the competition] and be in a better position next year,” he said.