Forssea is a French underwater robotics and vision company founded in 2016 that operates in the offshore energy markets (Oil & Gas, Wind). Forssea has been awarded numerous innovation prizes, including the Top 5 to watch in 2019, awarded by the Marine Technology Reporter. Within four years of establishment, Forssea is now working with some of the most respected offshore service contractors.
Forssea develops smart remotely operated vehicles (ROV) which can perform autonomous visual inspection while a network link allows real-time supervision from an onshore control center. The company also develops and commercializes visual positioning systems for close navigation around subsea structures.
Forssea is all set to launch its new robotics–as–a–service offering which combines a fit-for-purpose hardware platform and custom software.
Developing Underwater Environment
Historically underwater intervention is performed by heavy hydraulic vehicles. Industries must become less CAPEX and OPEX intensive, pushing towards lighter and easy-to-maintain systems. Now that robotics sensors and processing capabilities are more accessible, Forssea is willing to automatize repeatable tasks, such as visual inspection or cleaning.
Forssea took the risk to re-design a modern and all-electric platform, powerful enough to perform light intervention tasks at great depth and current. It is now adding software layers focusing on intuitive and ready-to-use features. The company is still at the beginning of the journey; where underwater environment is probably more hostile than space!
A Dynamic Leader
Gautier Dreyfus is the CEO of Forssea Robotics. He graduated from Ecole Polytechnique, one of the best French engineering schools. He is a former petroleum engineer with a personnel taste for subsea and marine adventure. Gautier is an occasional diver and served in the French Navy. He partnered with a very experienced ROV professional, Maxime Cerramon, founder and director of Searov offshore, a subsea service company, now part of DeepOcean group.
Gautier has been very active gathering French stakeholders under one banner. Forssea is working with two universities in the field of autonomous robotics and vision, and recently partnered with Ifremer, the French NASA for oceanographic research. Forssea has also signed contracts with several French marine and offshore stakeholders which helps in establishing its solid reputation as an underwater robotics and vision company.
The company aims to offering safer, cheaper and faster service, reducing human exposure in harsh environments, to perform repeatable tasks.
Fostering Breakthrough Innovation
Remote supervision and real-time image processing toolbox are the two innovations the company is especially proud of. While remote supervision assures that all the software runs in real-time are embedded onto the vehicle, with reliable communication link with the shore, real–time image processing toolbox is still at the development stage. The company feels that its next challenge is residency, and it is now trying to increase underwater immersion durations, which creates more unknown scenario to deal with.
Building scalability, Forssea announced new collaboration with IXBLUE to deploy the AGILE LBL solution and entered pre-qualification program with TOTAL in January 2019. The company announced new collaboration with DEEPOCEAN to develop autonomous underwater ROV systems in March 2019, and in April 2019, it partnered with STR to deploy visual positioning technology worldwide. In October 2019, Forssea completed two trials of visual positioning technology during the summer.
Instilling the Right Approach for Innovation
AI and Deep Learning are very well adapted to machine vision, and Forssea is developing visual recognition and diagnosis features to add to its existing technology portfolio. The open source community is extraordinary, but the quantity of information can be hard to digest. Everything is more accessible; the need is the requirement of amazing engineers to sort things out.
“Machine learning and artificial intelligence are rarely used in the right context. Robotics algorithms can be very powerful as-well, and still not be using any so-called AI feature. Control-command laws have made huge progress, and processing capabilities now allows very complex real-time algorithms for mobile navigation and positioning. The current market innovation space allows anyone to play with AI, but using the right AI approach for the right use-case is another story”, Gautier said.
Recognitions for Proven Excellence
Forssea’s first vehicle has been designed with a very specific application in mind deploying and recovering underwater positioning networks on the seabed in the context of offshore drilling campaigns. This system is now being qualified by one Oil & Gas major. Recognizing its capabilities, Forssea received the innovation award at the MCE Deepwater Development conference in Milan last year.
The company has re-used most of the technological bricks and turned them into to its ARGOS inspection platform.
Addressing Challenges to Capacity Building
Forssea Robotics clearly understands that the biggest challenge currently is the underwater harsh environment, adding complexity and costs to the development process. To address the challenges, the need of the hour is that of a high-power supply to thrive against the water flow, meaning high voltages and advanced electronics. No radio-frequency waves can travel subsea, meaning either embedded processing capabilities, or specific tools to manage and transmit the information. Then pressure requires to build customized housing, adding weight and friction to the vehicle. Salted water makes corrosion and isolation worst, adding to the challenges the company faces currently.
Robotics is usually the meeting point between mechanical, electronics and software. The need to know the platform to be able to make it evolve to right way, is critical, but once a robotics platform starts to be reliable and versatile, things get exciting.
Anticipating Future Capabilities
Gautier believes robotics solution deployment is limited by several aspects that are very often underestimated. First, of course, the accessibility of the hardware and software bricks (such as actuators, thrusters, camera, navigation sensors, processing capabilities and open source community). Very often, the technical capacities exceed the willingness and readiness of the market. The conservative industries are not always compatible with service free systems. Harsh environment requires maintenance and real-time adaptation that robots will never be able to ensure, though some industries still have to identify the specific business cases where robotics brings long–term value.
Repeatable task is the only way to scale, and to make all parties profitable. Offshore wind is a good example, all monopile and foundations look the same, with similar water depths and environmental conditions, allowing robots to inspect and report. On the contrary, Oil & Gas offshore fields are all unique. Technical, environmental and economic risks are too big to let any unmanned solution without direct supervision, he adds.