New 'Snake Robot' Fixes Pipelines on the Ocean Floor

The drone goes six months without needing to surface, massively reducing maintenance costs.
Chris Young

A new, advanced, underwater drone is being developed to help the deep-sea oil and gas industry install, maintain, and inspect thousands of kilometers of ocean pipelines.

Eelume is a 19 foot (six-meter) long snake-like robot that uses cameras and sensors for underwater navigation. 

According to a report by CNN, the robot can be kept at a docking station at depths of up to 1,640 feet (500 meters) for six months without surfacing. It can travel up to 12.4 miles (20 kilometers) before it needs to return for charging.

A varied set of tools allows it to carry out several tasks, including operating on subsea valves and removing marine growth and sediments.

New 'Snake Robot' Fixes Pipelines on the Ocean Floor
Eelume can be stored underwater at depths of 1,640 feet, Source: Eelume Subsea Intervention

Though maintenance at many deep-water pipeline systems is already carried out by unmanned vehicles, these are typically controlled from a fully crewed ship that must navigate to the required site.

Such operations can cost up to $100,000 per day, Pål Liljebäck, chief technology officer with Eelume Subsea Intervention, the developer of Eelume, told CNN.

Liljebäck says that by "enabling the robot to become a subsea resident living in a docking station, it can be mobilized at any time to do inspections and intervention tasks, and thereby reducing the need for costly surface vessels."

'Snake robot' is part of a future underwater robotic ecosystem

Norwegian oil company Equinor was one of the earliest investors in Eelume. "Diesel-burning surface vessels emit a lot of CO2 but robots, like Eelume, emit almost nothing," Pål Atle Solheimsnes, lead engineer with Equinor, told CNN.

What's more, the robotic device "will reduce our costs by using a cheaper method to do maintenance and repair. Instead of our employees working in dangerous conditions offshore, we can put them in an onshore control room," Solheimsnes continued.

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New 'Snake Robot' Fixes Pipelines on the Ocean Floor
Eelume is one of many underwater drones currently in development, Source: Eelume Subsea Intervention


Eelume Subsea Intervention is one of many firms and researchers developing underwater drones. Last week, we reported on an in-development underwater robot that will save people from drowning. Researchers are also imitating synchronized schools of fish with drones to help monitor our oceans.

Eelume Subsea Intervention and Equinor are set to carry out final testing on the seabed later this year at the Åsgard oil and gas field. Eelume has announced it expects to deploy its first snake robots next year. The company aims to have up to 50 of the machines in oceans worldwide by 2027.