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'Ring-wing' robo-sub smart swarm lands £6m oil deal

MoD uninterested in Brit ring-bot sniffers, though

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DSEi An upstart startup founded by BAE Systems engineers, let go following a corporate reorganisation, says that it has won a large oil-industry deal for its underwater ring-wing robot swarm technology.

GO Science, in its own words, was formed in 2002 by engineers who "left BAE Systems at Filton with many years of successful experience in aerospace, maritime and undersea". In particular, GO CEO Harry Gosling was a 28-year company man, having been sponsored through his engineering degree by the former British Aerospace and rising to become director of BAE Systems' underwater business. But a corporate restructuring in 2002 would have required him to move away from Bristol to keep his job, so he struck out on his own.

The company he founded has various kinds of special sauce at its disposal, with the headliner being its eyecatching "ring-wing" fluid-foil design. The GO Science engineers believe that the ring-wing has advantages in air as well as water, but for now they're focused on subsea applications.

This is because they actually have a customer for underwater use. To date, GO Science has survived mainly on government grants and sponsorships, apparently (pdf) meaning that Gosling has had to drive a smaller car than he was used to as a BAE director. But GO Science's Kelvin Hamilton, showing off the firm's ring-wing tech at the DSEi arms fair in London yesterday, told the Reg that the firm now has a "£6m" deal from an unnamed oil company.

It would seem that pleasing as the ring-wing subfoil is - Hamilton says it is 33 per cent more efficient than the best alternative underwater form factor, and it can easily do an impressive 8 knots on battery power - this is not the primary reason for the oil biz's interest. Rather, the deal was sealed by GO Science's other flavour of sauce - its autonomous, acoustic-link swarming technology.

According to Hamilton, the plan is to deploy a mighty swarm of up to 2,500 Ring Hydro Vessel Agent Under-liquid (RHyVAU) subdroids, which will navigate partially by compass/inertial means and partly using sonic signals emitted both from each other and from a surface reference unit using GPS satnav. The cunning swarm tech will let the highly manoeuvrable ring-wing droids swiftly drive themselves into a precisely aligned grid on the seabed, so deploying a net of well-located seabed sensors for a seismic survey. Data gathered, the ring-bot oilsniffers will recover themselves hands-off to the survey ship for swift and easy info collation.

According to GO Science, such surveys - commonly used by the oil and gas industries to get an idea how much remains in a given offshore resource field, for instance - normally take up to 12 weeks and tie up two or three ships using current remotely-operated subs. By contrast, a RHyVAU auto-swarm would get the job done in maybe half the time with just one ship required, cutting the present circa £18m cost of such an operation massively.

With such potential savings on the table, it's easy to see why the oil biz would be willing to take a chance on a new technology - and this on its own could mean a viable future for GO Science and perhaps a BAE-sized car again for its CEO.

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