Introducing ORCA Spin-out, SONOBOTICS Ltd

SONOBOTICS Ltd, a spin-out born out of the ORCA Hub - Technologies for Robotic Inspection.

The Offshore Robotics for the Certification of Assets (ORCA) Hub was set up to research cutting edge robotic solutions to real industrial problems. Inspections are a key industrial use case and there are many challenging industrial examples where robotic inspection technology is required.

While external visual inspections are important and form an essential part of the assessment of offshore structures, it is often necessary to probe the inside of the structure beneath the surface to get a proper assessment of its integrity. This is exactly what the team of the Imperial College non-destructive evaluation (NDE) Group set out to do as part of their ORCA Hub funded research.

Based on several years of academic research and collaboration, the NDE Group has created an acquisition system platform called SONUS that enables robotic inspections using EMATs (Electro- magnetic Acoustic Transducer). The technology is now commercially available via Sonobotics Ltd, a spin out company that the NDE lab and Drs. Khalili, Garriga-Casanovas and Cegla have set up to make the technology available to industry.

The EMAT acquisition system from Sonobotics is engineered to allow seamless integration onto autonomous and semi-autonomous robotic platforms by incorporating the Robotic Operation System (ROS), advanced software and wireless capabilities in less than an hour. The system is custom designed to be ultra-lightweight (<300g) which enables, for the first time, the use of EMATs with ALL types of robotic platforms including those where payload in an issue such as drones and UAVs. The EMAT enables ultrasonic inspections to be performed on conducting materials without the need for surface preparation and even through paint layers. Furthermore, there is no need to carry heavy ultrasonic couplant or water.

Robotic platforms equipped with the SONUS advanced sensing technology can create fully autonomous inspection platforms requiring no or minimal human intervention. Below is an example of how the system has been integrated onto the University of Edinburgh mobile Adabotics platform that contains an actuator arm so that components of arbitrary shape can be inspected.

Case Study

University of Edinburgh collaboration

In order to demonstrate the technologies developed within the ORCA Hub, the Imperial NDE group team partnered with the robotics group at the University of Edinburgh (UoE) (Dr. V. Ivan and Prof. S. Vijayakumar); this collaboration aimed at using the UoE robotic platform, shown in picture (a), to perform real-time inspections on various specimens including flat and curved steel components. For this, the ultrasonic acquisition system was mounted on the robot arm (b) with the EMAT probe at the tip of the robot arm (c). A few special features of the acquisition system including ROS-compatibility and incorporated wireless technology, enabled seamless integration of the NDT and robotic technologies; the acquisition system has been optimised to simplify the technology integration process which in most cases can be achieved within less than an hour.

To perform a scan, the location and geometry of the test specimen and scanning path of the arm were obtained autonomously with the aid of a stereo camera located on the arm. During the scan, the thickness value of the specimen was measured by the EMAT acquisition system and simultaneously merged with the location and pose of the arm to generate, in real-time, the thickness map of the specimen (e).

images to accompany descriptions within the text

Relevant Research publications

A. Garriga-Casanovas, P. Khalili and F. Cegla, Development of a New, Wireless Acquisition System for EMATs Compatible with the Robotics Operating System, in IEEE Sensors Journal, doi: 10.1109/JSEN.2020.3002418.

Vladimir Ivan, Arnau Garriga-Casanovas, Pouyan Khalili, Wolfgang Merkt, Frederic Cegla and Sethu Vijayakumar, Autonomous Non-destructive Remote Robotic Inspection of Offshore Assets, Proc. Offshore Technology Conference (OTC 2020), Houston, USA (2020).