James Cameron may have an affinity for deep sea exploration, but the ocean can be a dark and forbidding place where few people care to venture. Much of the world’s internet and international phone communications are enabled by submarine cables. Offshore oil rigs need constant monitoring. And with scientists looking to the ocean as a source of sustainable energy, there’s an increasing need to maintain deep sea equipment. Enter Eelume, a snakelike robot built to do just that.
Eelume may look like a predator from an undersea horror film, but the robot wasn’t conceived to be a nightmare. A partnership between engineers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Konsberg Maritime, and Statoil, Eelume’s thin and flexible form enables it to reach areas that are too confined for conventional remote operated vehicles (ROVs). Most ROVs tend to be big and bulky, making them costly and impractical to use in quick fixes. Even in more comprehensive jobs, ROVs’ size can keep them from accessing certain areas. Eelume is designed as a cost-effective alternative for tackling small maintenance and light intervention operations such as visual inspections, cleaning, and adjusting valves on underwater equipment.
“Eelume is a good example of how new technology and innovation contributes to cost reduction,” Statoil’s CTO, Elisabeth Kirkland Kvalheim, says on her company’s website. “Instead of using large and expensive vessels for small jobs, we now introduce a flexible robot acting as a self going janitor on the seabed.”
The robot mechanic can move through the water by either slithering like a snake or using a set of propellers attached to its tail. The machines are currently tethered by a power chord but Eelume’s creators hope to free future versions as the technology advances. Someday they’ll be permanently installed on the ocean floor, where they’ll perform planned and on-demand operations.