January 23, 2023

Milestone reached for autonomous lifting

A series of tests performed on the Valhall IP platform prove that Optilift’s technology for autonomous lifting operations performs well.

« We are thrilled to have reached technology readiness level 4 for our solution. This is an important step towards achieving fully remote-controlled lifting operations offshore”, says Torbjørn Engedal, CTO at Optilift.

During the tests, several attempts were made at automated on- and off hook of containers on vessel deck by the crane on the rig. With the help of Aker BP’s AutoHook system and Optilift sensor-based perception and control system, the tests were carried out without the crane operator intervening, and without hands on deck.

Close cooperation
The milestone is the result of a close collaboration between Aker BP, Føn Energy Services, the crane supplier Palfinger and Optilift. Autonomous lifting operations offshore require extreme precision and place great demands on perception- and control systems.

“During the tests, the distance between the crane boom tip and the container on the ship’s deck was more than 100 metres. Hooking on and off can be compared to automatically threading a needle. In addition, the systems must take wind and full vessel motions into account,” says Engedal.

The testing started with gradually increasing complexity on the loading decks on the rig, before moving onto tests in calm weather conditions on the vessel. According to Engedal, further testing needs to be performed in gradually more challenging weather conditions to reach a fully operational state of the solution.

Engedal is impressed by Aker BP’s efforts to develop new technology that automates lifting operations.

“They have a long-term approach. They are willing to invest time and money to develop an immature technology that will become a game changer in the industry. That deserves respect”, says Engedal.

Fewer accidents
Optilift’s control system consists of cameras and sensors in the boom tip that identify and track objects and measures movements and distances with high precision. Commands are transmitted with minimal lag to the crane control system.

Cargo handling offshore accounts for nearly 80 percent of accidents on oil and gas installations. Aker BP’s goal is to develop hands-free lifting in order to make lifting operations safer. When deck personnel no longer needs to physically connect containers, they can remain outside of the danger zone. Aker BP has worked on the development of assistance systems and AutoHook in close cooperation with Optilift, Palfinger and Føn Energy Services.

“This is a big and important milestone, because this is the first step towards an autonomous future, with crane operations performed from a central control room in Stavanger”, says Kristin Moe Elgsaas, technology manager with Aker BP (See LinkedIn post for Elgsaas’ statement).

Valuable data
Engedal says the goal is to further mature the technology to readiness level seven – full operational state. The results from the tests at Valhall IP have given Optilift’s team valuable experience and data that forms basis for finalizing the technology.

“The biggest challenge with autonomous lifting operations offshore is to achieve a robust and precise perception technology that automatically captures and measures all movements in uncontrolled weather conditions. It must interact seamlessly with advanced control technology, with razor sharp prediction and mathematical calculations”, he says and adds:

“We have reached a technological breakthrough and paved the way towards a more autonomous future in the offshore industry».

Read more about Optilift’s Autonomous Crane Control System here.