Long read

Accelerating the development of subsea remote and autonomous solutions with the National Robotarium

Fugro Blue Volta® eROV in the National Robotarium's Heriot-Watt University facilities carrying out trials


12 Jan 2022


Mark Bruce & Neda Sepasian

Our partnership with the National Robotarium allows us to leverage our combined technical expertise, extensive network, project funding and large-scale, cutting-edge facilities to help accelerate the development of ground-breaking autonomous underwater solutions that deliver added value to our clients.

We’re delighted to continue growing our partnership with the National Robotarium, which was jointly established by Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh.

Its newest facility is located at Heriot-Watt and opened in September 2022. This important innovation hub is the UK’s largest and most advanced applied research facility for robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). It is already sparking many exciting collaborations between academics and industry.

Identifying and observing

Having identified the National Robotarium as a potential research and development partner, in January 2020 we sent one of our innovation engineers to Edinburgh to find out more. It quickly became evident that there were many synergies between the National Robotarium team’s vision and roadmap and our own.

For example, we both were developing a smart subsea camera, but for different purposes: autonomy (National Robotarium) and high-accuracy data acquisition (Fugro). This was clearly a very well-matched opportunity for us as the National Robotarium was building something that we would use to differentiate our products in the subsea autonomy and inspection arena.

Strengthening the relationship

Our teams have been in regular contact since that initial meeting, both face-to-face and virtually. We have now got to the stage where we can talk very openly. That’s because we know that we’re all working towards the same goal: to push the boundaries of what’s possible in terms of autonomous operation, to deliver value to our end clients.

We’re also able to collaborate with many of the National Robotarium’s existing contacts – not just other universities, but also start-ups whose area of expertise differs from our own. We’ll be tapping into their specialist knowledge and creativity, and in return we’ll direct and guide initiatives to make sure they address real-world sector challenges. Working with the National Robotarium gives us an efficient way to extend our team.

Checking compatibility

In May 2022, three National Robotarium engineers brought their autonomy camera over to our innovation facility at Nootdorp, the Netherlands. The aim was to see if it would ‘plug and play’ with our system. We set a five-day target and a high bar. We gave them access to our test demonstrator remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and ensured that two Fugro engineers were always ready to support them with any integration issues – software or physical. The teams learned a lot from each other, it was great to see the two teams interact and identify efficiencies within each other’s methodology. After setup, analysing and monitoring the data for two full days, both teams agreed that the machines were integrated, and compatibility was confirmed.


We despatched one of Fugro’s Blue Volta®, our commercial fully electric ROV, from Singapore in time for the grand opening of the National Robotarium’s Heriot-Watt facility on 28 September 2022. After a successful day at the opening, which grabbed the attention of the audience sparking a lot of interest in the vehicle and its capabilities, the Blue Volta® was moved to the Robotarium’s impressive wave tank. The following day we fitted the National Robotarium’s camera onto our Blue Volta®. We were there for a week with our Lead Engineer and Lead Software Architect so that we could do the integration and map out plans for future client demonstrations. Two months of rigorous testing were successfully completed by the end of November 2022.

Fugro Blue Volta® eROV in the National Robotarium's Heriot-Watt University facilities carrying out trials

Fugro Blue Volta® eROV in the National Robotarium’s Heriot-Watt University facilities carrying out trials

Demonstrating our capabilities

In early 2023 we’ll use our Fugro Blue Essence® uncrewed surface vessel equipped with the Blue Volta® to conduct an industry first: a remotely operated autonomous offshore wind farm inspection. We will control the assets from our remote operations centre in Aberdeen, whilst collecting real-time data from the offshore wind farm.

There are several other areas we will look to collaborate in over the coming years; looking at low touch manipulation and vehicle control so that we further develop our underwater intervention robotic capabilities, which all feeds into our autonomy goals.

Did you know?

The National Robotarium camera can aid:

  • Real-time image enhancement

  • Simultaneous localisation and mapping

  • 3D modelling

About the author

Mark Bruce is Product Owner – Next Generation ROV Systems at Fugro and Neda Sepasian is Innovation Manager Data Analytics at Fugro

Site investigation (CPT and drilling) and monitoring
Performing CPT, drilling and monitoring of the Grimburgwal canal in Amsterdam

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