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Norway: Maritime Technology Safer Ship Inspection with Autonomous Drones

| Editor: Alexander Stark

Inspecting ship tanks and storage spaces underwater is a challenging task for humans. A start-up company that originated at Norway's NTNU is manufacturing autonomous drones that can do the job reliably and more cheaply.

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Ships and maritime installations need to be checked regularly for cracking, rust and other corrosion. This drone will improve and make that task easier.
Ships and maritime installations need to be checked regularly for cracking, rust and other corrosion. This drone will improve and make that task easier.
(Source: Næss, Øyvind Nordahl)

Trondheim/Norway — Ships and maritime installations are subjected to strong forces that wear on the materials. Saltwater causes metal to rust, and waves and rough seas can eat away at ruptures and cracks on the hull. Ships and other structures have to be inspected regularly for cracking, rust and other corrosion.

Manually controlled drones are being tested, but they require highly skilled and experienced drone pilots to do this job. Using the GPS inside the ship tanks isn’t possible, and thick steel structures affect the manual steering by disrupting the magnetic compass that keeps the drone on course. Scaffolding, climbing and rafting with inflatables are the methods that are currently used to reach all the places that need to be checked. This is both time consuming and expensive, and involves a certain security risk for those doing the work.

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Now, the Norwegian company Scout Drone Inspection is developing a drone that can autonomously inspect ship tanks and storage spaces. Chief technical officer Kristian Klausen is convinced that this solution will provide better and safer collection of data at lower cost.

3D Test Models Printed in Quick Succession

Scout sprang from the Amos innovation environment at NTNU. Today, five employees are working full time at Scout, and six students work part time. Currently, the team is focusing on implementing software and their own electronics. They are also using 3D printing technology to adjust the mechanical design. The 3D printing enables them to draw, print and test new models within just a few hours.

Scout also produces sensors and cameras adapted for the inspection drones. And they are developing electronics that are currently manufactured in Germany and China. The Scout team is involved with the testing and running trials. These and other steps in the commercialization phase take place at Faktry in Trondheim, a hardware incubator for entrepreneurs. “We’re flying several prototypes here at Faktry and have also started developing our cloud solutions, says Klausen.

Start-Up Support in China

Asia, and China in particular, are the markets that Scout entrepreneurs are targeting. To this end they have engaged nHack, an accelerator programme that assists start-ups and growth companies that want to expand into China – either by locating resources in the country or establishing themselves in the Chinese market. The nHack programme connects Nordic companies with everything from potential investors and partners to suppliers, manufacturers and potential customers.

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