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Robots go their own way deep in the ocean

“It’s very common,” says Jess Hanham casually, when asked how often he finds suspected unexploded bombs.

Mr Hanham is a co-founder of Spectrum Offshore, a marine survey firm that does a lot of work in the Thames Estuary.

His firm undertakes all sorts of marine surveying, but working on sites for new offshore wind farms has become a big business for him.

Work in the Thames Estuary, and other areas that were the targets of bombing in World War 2, are likely to involve picking up signals of unexploded munitions.

“You can find a significant amount of contacts that need further investigation and for a wind farm that will be established in the initial pre-engineering survey,” he says.

With that information project managers can decide whether to place turbines and other equipment a safe distance from the suspected bombs, or have them blown up by a specialist firm.

At the moment marine surveying is done by teams who go out on boats, collect the data and bring it back for analysis.

Sometimes that will involve a relatively small vessel with two crew members, a surveyor and his kit. But bigger inspection projects further out to sea can involve much larger boats, with dozens of crew members, costing in the region of £100,000 per day.

The sensor equipment varies according to the job. Sometimes it might be a sonar array towed behind the boat, for other jobs it might be an underwater unmanned vehicle, which can be controlled by surveyors on the surface.

Bad weather can disrupt the work and make life uncomfortable. “I’ve been at sea in force nine and force 10 gales and they’re not nice places to work,” says Brian Allen, chief executive of Rovco.

His company is one of several looking to disrupt that market using artificial intelligence (AI) systems. They see a future where underwater robots, known as autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), will be able to do the surveying work without much human oversight, and send the data back to surveyors in the office.

Bristol-based Rovco is working on key pieces of the technology. It has trained an AI system to recognise objects on the seabed from data collected at sea, a process which took four years.

Adding AI means the data does not have to be analysed by a human on the ship, or taken back to shore for assessment. That work is actually being done there and then by the AI, which can operate on the ship, or soon on the underwater robot itself.

“Without AI autonomous underwater robots are pretty dumb – only being able to follow pipelines and cables in pre-programmed lines,” says Mr Allen.

“Enabling the AUV to analyse data in real time means you can actually instruct the robot to do other things. If you come across a problem, the survey can be stopped, and more data collected, with the robot making decisions for itself,” he says.

So, for example, if the AI flagged up something that looked like an unexploded bomb it could stop, go back, and do further analysis.

For some jobs, like dismantling underwater oil and gas infrastructure, engineers need to know the exact dimensions and locations of the equipment.

To help with this Rovco has also developed a vision system that produces accurate maps of underwater infrastructure.

The system generates a 3D cloud of individual data points, a format used in modelling software like CAD. It combines those points with camera images to generate a realistic 3D reconstruction.

Rovco is currently bringing together the vision system, the AI and the underwater vehicle into one package.

Other companies are also racing to introduce AI into the industry.

Jake Tompkins is the chief executive of UK-based Modus, which owns a fleet of 12 unmanned underwater vehicles. It is about to start a two-year programme with Durham University to develop an artificial intelligence control system that would allow some of its underwater vehicles to recognise their location, objects and anomalies during a survey.

He says that combining with Durham is a very efficient way to develop the technology, because they already have proven AI systems for the car and aerospace industries.

Using autonomous subsea robots to survey the seabed and inspect underwater structures would be a “game changer”, according to Mr Tompkins and should “significantly” cut costs.

He thinks it won’t be long before underwater robots will be stationed out at sea, perhaps at an offshore wind farm, or at an oil or gas facility.

When needed, they will be woken up and sent to harvest data, which will be sent back to an onshore control centre for processing.

“I think we’re probably two or so years away from the first commercial deployment of field-resident autonomous vehicles, but that is certainly where we are heading,” says Mr Tompkins.

His company is currently working on ways to keep the AUVs charged while they are out at sea and on technology that allows them to send back data.

There is a juicy prize for the firms that can make such intelligent underwater robots work. Over the next decade the offshore wind market is expected to see “quite extraordinary” growth, according to Søren Lassen, head of offshore wind research at the consultancy Wood Mackenzie.

At the moment only six countries have a commercial-scale offshore wind power industry. In 10 years’ time, he forecasts that 20 countries will have joined that club.

Last year 29 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity was connected to electricity grids around the world. In 2029 Wood Mackenzie forecasts that number will hit 180 gigawatts.

That will involve building thousands of wind turbines and laying thousands of kilometres of cable to connect up those wind farms and all of that will need the services of underwater surveyors.

By 2029, much of that work at sea might be done by autonomous systems, with humans back at the office.

Jess Hanham will keep his business up to date with the latest technology, but fears the work will become less rewarding.

“I love the variety. For me being stuck in the office – I’d hate that. Going out and doing survey work, coming back and seeing the whole thing from start to finish – it gives you ownership of the work. I thoroughly enjoy that. If we were to lose part of that, I think that would be a real shame.”

Modus Complete Deep Water AUV Survey in Mediterranean

Date: 14th August 2020

UK based subsea service company performs seabed surveys at new deep water well site in the Mediterranean on behalf of M-Surveys, part of the Maritech Group using Hybrid AUV technology.

Modus Seabed Intervention Ltd, a specialist global provider of modular subsea vehicles and managed services has recently completed bathymetric survey and inspection work at a new deep water well exploration site in Mediterranean waters, offshore Israel. M-Surveys awarded the project to Modus who used their latest 3000m rated Hybrid AUV (HAUV) system to complete the offshore scope of work in water depths up to 1800m, the deepest dive Modus has undertaken to date with an AUV.

The HAUV was deployed from the M-Surveys operated “Ocean Link” vessel in Q1 2020. Subsea surveys of 4 x 4 km grids were conducted at high speed, making use of the HAUV’s flexible payload, which included a multibeam sonar and high-resolution video cameras, to collect data simultaneously.

This project demonstrated that the HAUV spread will provide operational efficiency in relation to the speed of data acquisition and improved data quality when compared to conventional ROV or AUV methodologies.

Vyron Skaftouros of M-Surveys commented “M-Surveys as part of the Maritech Group are an innovative, forward thinking company that look to take advantage of the latest technology on the market. Modus’ HAUV system provided us with the opportunity to significantly reduce our project timeline through the speed and efficiency of the HAUV in deep water drill sites. This was unprecedented and a step forward in how data will be acquired at these depths in the future.

Luke Barnes, Commercial Manager for Modus said “With the latest 3000m rated HAUV only being delivered to our fleet in late 2019, it is a positive step forward for the technology to disrupt the traditional survey methodologies at these water depths. Operating the HAUV-2 fully autonomously, Modus sought to create a new benchmark for data quality, as well as helping to achieve a reduced project schedule for M-Surveys.

Hybrid AUV Completes Depth of Burial Survey At Gwynt-y-Mor Offshore Wind Farm

Date: 2nd June 2020

Modus Seabed Intervention Ltd, a North East UK based subsea service provider, has recently completed a high speed  bathymetric and depth of burial survey of the inter array cable routes on the Innogy operated Gwynt-y-Môr offshore wind farm, utilising the Modus HAUV-2 (Hybrid Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) .

The Gwynt-y-Môr Offshore Wind Farm comprises 160 Siemens 3.6MW WTGs located approximately 8 miles from the North Wales coast in Liverpool Bay in water depths ranging between 12m and 28m.  The WTG’s are connected by 161 inter array cables which total circa 147km in length. The worksite is known for high subsea currents, so any solution had to cope with current up to 2kts.

To execute the O&M depth of burial survey scope, Modus mobilised its HAUV-2 system, equipped with Optimal Ranging Orion Cable Tracking System and dual head R2Sonic 2024 Multibeam Echosounder, on the chartered DP2 vessel “Noordhoek Pathfinder”.  The inherent power and stability of HAUV-2 provides unrivalled high current workability and the system operated throughout the local tidal cycle.  Despite the high currents experienced, survey speeds achieved were approximately four times faster than incumbent ROV based solutions.

Having already performed numerous oil and gas scopes, Gwynt-y-Môr was the first complete OWF inter array survey performed by HAUV-2 and it demonstrated the benefits such a system can offer this industry sector.  As well as the high current capability, the HAUV (unlike incumbent AUV systems) can hover and can interchange sensors on the vehicle, which ensures system flexibility to change tasks, for example the HAUV can combine depth of burial survey with structure inspection activities to offer further synergy savings in these challenging environments.

This work was critical for the maintenance and operation of the wind farm. Given the crucial importance of electricity to people’s day-to-day life, energy providers have continued working throughout COVID 19 lockdown to keep the lights on. Gwynt y Môr Offshore Wind Farm generates enough renewable electricity to meet the equivalent needs of approximately 400,000 average UK homes. It was imperative that those working on the project adopted the highest standard of hygiene and cleanliness and followed government guidelines at all times.

Graham Thorpe, Asset Integrity Engineer for Innogy Renewables UK Limited stated:  At innogy we are always striving to enhance our operations at the Gwynt-y-Môr offshore Wind Farm. Being in the long-term O&M phase of the project, cost saving is a significant driver and we have a continued effort to deliver operational performance. Part of this is the ongoing inspection and maintenance of our assets through periodic surveys in order to ensure a continued reliable supply of Renewable Power to the UK. The HAUV’s performance capability was proven and the system delivered high speed data acquisition without compromising quality”.

Nigel Ward, Chief Commercial Officer for Modus said; “The HAUV’s capability has now been proven across the energy sector since 2018. The ability to perform high speed depth of burial in high current areas has been an ongoing requirement of the offshore wind industry. With HAUV, we were able to significantly reduce overall survey time at this important offshore wind farm for the UK energy industry. As well as cost savings, use of this vehicle significantly decreases the carbon footprint of a survey of this nature.  Going forward, the flexibility of payload enables this vehicle to combine various types of survey and inspection to improve efficiency and further reduce vessel days offshore, setting new standards for subsea operations. The next phase of development is to remove the need for a dedicated support vessel and to use the autonomous features of the HAUV to perform scopes from vessels or structures already in field, such as SOV’s.”   

Modus Performs Decommissioning Survey with Hybrid AUV

Date: 19th September 2019

Modus Ltd, a North East UK based subsea specialist, has recently completed a high-speed decommissioning survey for Rever Offshore in the North Sea using one of its HAUV’s (Hybrid Autonomous Underwater Vehicle). The objective of the survey was to locate any items of debris that remained at the sites after the decommissioning of Fairfield assets in the Northern North Sea,
including work performed within the 500m zone, and the scope further included survey of pipeline routes between additional platforms.

The surveys were successfully performed at speeds of up to 4.6km/hr in water depths of approximately 150m. For this scope, the flexible HAUV was equipped with dual head multi beam sonars and high-resolution Side Scan Sonar. Utilisation of the HAUV spread increased operational efficiency in relation to the speed of data acquisition and improved data quality.

Philip Strettle-Brown, Survey Manager at Rever Offshore commented “The use of the HAUV allowed us to significantly reduce the timescales of obtaining the required survey data and improve the
overall efficiency of the produced surveys. By implementing new technology, the data obtained was of significantly higher quality and resolution when compared to alternative methods”
Nigel Ward, Chief Commercial Officer at Modus Seabed Intervention, said “We are very pleased with the positive impact and clear benefits that the Modus HAUV has had on this decommissioning project.
Modus have been able to significantly reduce the survey time infield while delivering class leading data quality in combination with Rever Offshore’s processing expertise. We feel that this methodology has created a new efficiency benchmark for future decommissioning surveys in the North Sea.”


About Modus

Modus is a specialist global provider of innovative technical, project and Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV) services for subsea and seabed intervention. Modus operates a comprehensive range of UUV systems, which are deployed across the entire life cycle of a subsea field development.
The Modus fleet uniquely comprises ROV, AUV and hybrid vehicles utilised for survey, stabilisation and protection (trenching), drilling support, construction support, intervention and Inspection, Repair and Maintenance (IRM).
Modus provide life of field support for subsea developments in the renewable energy, oil and gas, telecommunications, oceanographic, mining and defence sectors; delivering technical and operational excellence through safe, professional, innovative and optimised services.

Modus continues to expand its fleet of hybrid Autonomous Underwater Vehicles

Date: 30th April 2019

Modus has placed an order with Saab Seaeye for the next vehicle in its Hybrid Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (HAUV) fleet. The 3,000m rated Saab Sabertooth will be delivered in Q3 2019.

This further order reinforces Modus’ position as a world leader in HAUV capability and continues to build upon the advanced technology development programme Modus initiated in 2012. Modus launched its first HAUV (also a Saab Sabertooth) in 2017 which has gone on to successfully complete major pipeline inspections and the trialling of subsea docking and residency, in a project backed by Innovate UK.

The new system will be equipped with extended autonomous endurance and increased thrust for high speed survey and will be prepared for the integration of advanced and high-resolution sensors for different types of applications and operations.

Jake Tompkins, CEO Modus commented, “We are delighted to announce the continuation of our drive to develop and bring to market highly differentiated capabilities. This latest order demonstrates our commitment to provide game changing performance, data quality and economic benefits to our customers. This is part of a significant programme to develop not only a fleet of autonomous vehicles, but also AI and machine learning methods for integrating data, data visualisation, remote vehicle control and mission planning. More announcements on this programme will follow.”

Anne-Marie Vösu, Head of Dynamics business unit Underwater Systems at Saab Dynamics also remarked “It’s great to receive further orders from Modus, it is a proof from the customer that they are satisfied with Saab’s unique AUV/ROV hybrid solution that we are continuing to develop for customers further needs”.

The Modus vehicle has all the advanced features of the military hybrid AUV/ROVs, combined with the rugged and proven Saab Seaeye technology. The vehicle is also capable of providing light intervention support and with a depth rating of 3,000m it can be deployed on a wide range of subsea tasks across all sectors.

Modus marks 10 years in business with a new look

Date: 05th February 2019


Modus is marking a decade of trading with an exciting new look. Changes include a new logo and website, as well as the new strapline of ‘Smart Subsea Services’.


Since its inception, Modus has actively sought innovative solutions and worked collaboratively with customers to meet their needs. Whilst Seabed Intervention remains a key service, the new identity better reflects the full company offering which also includes AUV services, managed and technical services, and ROV services. The new look encapsulates all four business lines and represents the company’s hi-tech, innovation led focus. In addition to the new brand, the company will now trade as ‘Modus’.


Modus CEO, Jake Tompkins commented, “for some time we have been conscious that the company branding did not fully reflect all our service lines.  Our 10-year anniversary gave us the opportunity to address this and to launch a new look.  In addition to seabed intervention and trenching, which remain a core activity, we are also providing expert ROV services, managing customer assets and operations and we are leading the way with the application of advanced hybrid AUV services.  We are now focussed on launching truly next generation technology and are developing new solutions using AI and machine learning.”

Modus Completes Vashishta Pipeline and Umbilical Trenching

Date: 30th November 2018

Modus Seabed Intervention Limited has successfully trenched to specification, the ONGC Vashishta pipelines and umbilical offshore India for McDermott International. The challenging scope included the trenching and surveying of two 18km long pipelines with outside diameters of up to 579mm, and a 24km long 284mm outside diameter umbilical, down to a maximum trench depth 2 metres. The water depth for trenching operations ranged between 3.5 metres and 217 metres and involved mobilising the Modus CT-1 trenching vehicle onto the Bourbon 807 for the deeper water sections and then transferring the trenching equipment to the Multicat Zwerver II for the shallow water operations. The project demonstrated the versatility of the CT-1 to provide on-specification burial and survey from a host of vessels; mobilising safely and swiftly, offering unrivalled flexibility. The CT-1’s ability to be configured to trench in water depths from 3.5m to 3,000m is unrivalled in the industry.

Nigel Ward, Commercial Director of Modus Seabed Intervention, commented: “We are very pleased to have completed the trenching on this project to specification. The adaptability of CT-1 came into its own; the vehicle was modified by the Technical Services team at Modus to enable the successful burial of both the umbilical and pipelines in deep and shallow waters. To add to the challenge, the overall weight of the vehicle was reduced so that it could be accommodated by the available vessels. Mobilising the single trenching system to perform these scopes had obvious benefits, particularly to a location with remote support facilities. The project is good example of Modus’s innovative approach to subsea construction activities”

Modus provides hybrid AUV services to Fugro in Australasia under a new collaboration agreement

Date: 4th October 2018

Modus Seabed Intervention Ltd, a North East UK headquartered subsea specialist, has entered into a collaboration agreement with Fugro to provide hybrid AUV pipeline survey and inspection services within Australasia.

The collaboration enables Fugro to offer the Modus H-AUV (Hybrid AUV), the most capable and advanced subsea AUV available, to perform high speed survey and inspection whilst maintaining best in class data quality.

The collaboration has been awarded its first contract and the Modus H-AUV spread has been mobilised to Australia with a suite of state-of-the-art survey sensors and ancillary equipment, including the Cathx laser and photogrammetry system and docking unit allowing deployment and recovery on the seabed to perform pipeline integrity survey work on Australia’s North West Shelf. Utilisation of the H-AUV spread delivers significant efficiency gains in terms of data acquisition speed and quality whilst allowing for a reduction of operational personnel offshore, therefore providing tangible safety benefits and cost savings.

Marcus Hemsted, Business Development Manager at Fugro said “As Fugro continues to develop and lead the development of remote offshore operations within the region, we are excited to come together with Modus to offer the H-AUV as part of a suite of cutting-edge survey and inspection technology utilised to actively support our IMR client base in the Australasian region”

Nigel Ward, Commercial Director at Modus Seabed Intervention said “The ability of the new Hybrid AUV technology to improve efficiency and increase quality coupled with Fugro’s advanced data processing and remote operations expertise has enabled the collaboration to secure this first project within the Australia region. We feel that this project will redefine the way that future pipeline inspections are performed locally”

Modus drives world-first resident AUV programme

Date: January 2018

A Darlington-based subsea specialist is developing an innovative approach to enable autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) to remain at offshore wind farm sites without a support vessel. The move could shave £1.1billion1 from the operating cost of Europe’s offshore wind farms and would be a world-first in the sector.

Modus Seabed Intervention, in partnership with Osbit Ltd and the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult, is trialling an AUV docking station. The design will enable vehicle re-charging, as well as the upload of acquired data and download of mission commands.

The use of AUVs to survey and inspect offshore wind farm subsea infrastructure is a relatively new cost-efficiency measure in this sector. Replacing support vessels with the AUV docking station could further reduce expenditure. In addition to the estimated £1.1billion saving across the current 11GW offshore wind farm fleet over the next 25 years, the scheme will also significantly reduce the need for staff to work in often hazardous environments.

“Since 2012, Modus has been focusing on the development of hybrid AUV systems to be deployed for subsea and seabed survey, and inspection,” says Managing Director of Modus and project lead Jake Tompkins. “Part of our vision is to see AUVs becoming field resident, offering significant cost savings and quality benefits to the markets and our customers.”
he Autonomous Vehicle for the Inspection of offshore wind farm Subsea INfrastructure (AVISIoN) project has received funding from Innovate UK. This will enable further development, testing and demonstrations of Modus’ existing Hybrid AUV capability, and docking station.

Testing will take place at ORE Catapult’s National Renewable Energy Centre in Blyth, Northumberland. The first phase will use saltwater testing docks and Catapult’s National Anemometry Hub. Offshore wind farm developers Innogy, EDF Energy and E.ON are also supporting the project, with Innogy agreeing to carry commercial trials at the Gwynt y Môr offshore wind farm.

“Currently, seabed surveys and infrastructure inspections are carried out by crewed survey vessels using hull-mounted equipment, diving and ROV support vessels. These methods are time consuming, expensive and often heavily weather dependent. But the UK is now leading the world in the development of offshore wind farm subsea autonomous inspection technologies,” says O&M Strategy Manager for ORE Catapult Andrew Kay. “The system being developing with Modus and Osbit will be fully self-sufficient, reducing operational and maintenance costs, as well as the levels of personnel required.”

Tariq Dawood, research engineer at the EDF Energy R&D UK Centre said: “EDF Energy strongly believes the AVISIoN project will likely lead to a complete rethink in the logistics for subsea surveys for future offshore wind farms. “Through the EDF Energy R&D UK Centre, we are fully committed to participating in the AVISIoN project to ensure the benefits of a permanent offshore base station for an Automated Underwater Vehicle is realised in terms of improved health and safety and reduced Levelised Cost of Energy.”

Graham Thorpe, Asset Integrity Engineer for Innogy, said: “As a large offshore wind farm operator, Innogy promotes innovation and is happy to aid in the development of technology that will help drive down maintenance costs and potentially benefit the industry as a whole.”

1Offshore wind farm operators who utilise AUVs can reduce their LCOE by 0.8%. Applying this cost saving for a 400MW representative offshore wind farm (ref, IEA methodology), a 0.8% LCOE reduction will yield cost savings of £1.6m per annum. Across the current 11GW of European installed capacity over this next 25 years, that could equate to as much as £1.1bn.

Modus Unveils Next Generation Survey and Inspection Capability

Modus Seabed Intervention has completed system integration and trialling of one of the subsea industries first commercially available hybrid unmanned underwater vehicles; driving high performance, quality and cost-effective delivery of survey and inspection projects in the offshore, defence and oceanographic sectors. The Modus hybrid is one of the first Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV) to feature the capabilities and characteristics of a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV).

Working in partnership with Saab Dynamics for over three years, global subsea service provider Modus has developed the Saab Sabretooth specification for greater endurance and speed, and is also developing advanced sensor payload packages and operating methodologies.

Having completed a programme of integration tests and trialling both in Sweden and in the UK, the company is preparing the advanced spread for its first commercial deployment. The system will be used in survey and inspection projects in the oil & gas, interconnector and offshore renewables sectors to support pre-engineering, construction support and life-of-field condition monitoring requirements. The company is also working on a number of applications in the oceanographic and defence sectors.

The vehicle can be operated fully autonomously or as a tethered ROV, offering unrivalled flexibility and cost benefits from one platform. Whilst conventional AUVs are designed to remain in motion, the hybrid AUV features a thruster pattern that enables it to hover and operate with 6 degrees of freedom, providing a highly differentiated capability for inspection and light intervention applications.

Modus has armed the vehicle with increased thrust to support high speed survey, as well as additional batteries for extended autonomous endurance. The first vehicle is depth rated to 1,200 metres, which can be upgraded to 3,000 metres to meet project-specific applications. Modus have also developed two deployment and recovery systems; a floating dock for surface deployment and recovery, and a subsea garage allowing for a full de-coupling from the support vessel and for the vehicle to navigate autonomously in and out of the garage on the seabed.

As part of its advanced survey technology payload, the spread features as standard, a suite of sensors including the latest Edgetech 2205 combined triple frequency sidescan sonar, co-located bathymetry and sub-bottom profiler; HD video and stills cameras, IXBlue Phins3 INS, RDI workhorse DVL and 3D imaging sonars. Additional equipment available for integration includes R2 Sonic 2024 MBES, Cathodic Protection (CP) probes, magnetometer, cable tracking and laser scanning systems.

This new vehicle is part of a significant development programme by Modus, to introduce advanced and disruptive technologies across its range of services. In addition to new technology platforms, Modus is also developing a fully-managed service to provide a cost-effective and efficient service for holistic data harvesting and data and asset management, in combination with advanced mission planning and execution methodologies.

Modus and Saab have entered into a collaboration agreement, focussed on research and development to generate a road map to define the future capabilities of hybrid AUV technology. The company is heavily focussed on full subsea residency for life of field support, with the autonomous vehicles remaining permanently in situ rather than being deployed from a vessel.

Jake Tompkins, Managing Director of Modus Seabed Intervention, said: “Our hybrid AUV capability is a game changing development for the subsea industry that innovatively addresses the sector challenges and the current economic environment.

“Our ongoing investments into subsea vehicle development, disruptive innovation and operating processes will ensure our customers can benefit from a differentiated approach to survey, inspection and intervention, providing cost effective, high quality performance.”

Jake added: “The hybrid AUV development and our ongoing partnership with Saab demonstrate our commitment to remain at the forefront of the subsea sector through the application of advanced technology. We are consistently driving innovation to enable our customers to maximise operational efficiencies whilst meeting evolving industry requirements.”