Students take a research tour with Damen ship repairs in Rotterdam.
A team of students from ETH Zurich and ZHdK have developed a prototype for a robotic ship inspection unit that is capable of conducting visual inspections of ship ballasts. Ballast inspection – which involves navigating hard-to-reach spots with no line of sight, often in the presence of intense heat, humidity, and hazardous gases – is normally done by human inspectors, and represents a significant cost to ship-owners who must pay for dry-docking and who face lost income when they cannot operate their ships during the inspection period. Because robotic ship inspection can occur while the ship is in operation, it could significantly reduce dry-dock time. The Ship Inspection Robot (SIR), which was developed in conjunction with Alstom Inspection Robotics and which uses magnetic wheels to navigate the I-beams and other awkward obstacles found inside ship ballast, is relatively compact and does not require any cables for power or communication, and thus offers significant mobility improvements over other robotic ship inspection prototypes. Project leaders anticipate that a per unit production cost could be as low as €4K, enabling shipping companies to operate several units in parallel as an additional time-saving measure. The robot was developed as part of a Bachelor-level project that aims to give students practical experience and promote contacts with industry.