Bots Under The Deep Blue Sea
A city-based venture has come up with a technology that sounds like a sci-fi movie. Scientific explanation would call it an unmanned vehicle that examines anything under water. But Tanuj Jhujhunwala, co-founder of Planys Technology, which designed the bot, has an easier and cooler definition of what he does. “We build underwater robots,” he explains.
The start-up, which was born at the IIT-Madras Research Park’s Incubation Cell, recently got a round of angel-investor funding and a grant from the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) to build these specialised robots that can offer time and cost-effective services that would otherwise require a diver and a lengthy, complicated process. These services range from checking for leakage in an underwater oil pipeline to inspecting a container ship’s hull for damages.
For instance, ‘dry-docking’ a ship, where water is drained from an area in the harbour and the ship is inspected for repairs, will become a much faster process with the robot, which can perform the same task underwater.
The internet-enabled Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) can go to a depth of 100 meters. It is fitted with a high-definition camera to photograph and record underwater footage. “We have made a live-streaming service available in case a surveyor cannot make it to the site,” explains Jhunjhunwala, an alumnus of IIT-M, who did research on the same subject as a student.
Why not import one from abroad? “Those are far more expensive and consume much more power,” he asserts. He adds that their 12-member team comprising mechanical, electrical, computer science and ocean engineers are actively looking to customise it in any way, to offer it for commercial use and provide solutions — including water toxicity testing and defence.
Born out of a student group’s fascination with robots, the product is designed with the idea of eliminating human errors in underwater testing — even a professional diver aware of the golden non-destructive testing (NDT) rule, can commit errors. The NDT aspect of the robot is being engineered into place with the help of the start-up’s two faculty advisers Professors Krishnan Balasubramanian and Prabhu Rajagopal of IIT-Madras.
The NDT aspect will ensure that the underwater site is not damaged while testing is carried out. Planys is planning to come up with an acoustic-localisation mechanism to be fitted onboard. In other words, the robot will soon be getting its own underwater version of GPS. Efforts are also underway to make it smarter by introducing a sensor and sonar-based inspection system along with its current ‘visual’ (camera-based) inspector.
The pilot testing was completed in October 2015, near the Chennai Port and a few other offshore platforms and the startup has started taking up shipping, oil and natural gas and power sector projects.