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ROVING THE SEABED
A hundred thousand dollars from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology is helping the next generation of super-tech remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) get down to work on the seabed around the country.
Magellan Technologies staff use these boys’ toys dream machines for undersea searches, underwater work on oil rigs and low-level flying across the seabed.
The unmanned submersibles used by the New Plymouth company are servicing a niche market in underwater inspections, in off-shore oilfields and pipelines, survey and construction as well as routine monitoring of power and communication cables connecting the North and South islands.
The funding, awarded through the Grants for Private Sector Research and Development scheme (GPSRD) together with some local ingenuity - and financial input - has helped Magellan upgrade the overseas-sourced ROVs to face the challenge of New Zealand’s difficult sea and weather conditions.
That research has led to improvements to the ROVs’ as well as specialised tooling that means the company can take on work previously done by deep sea divers.
It has also seen the introduction of new sonar technology which is overtaking traditional video systems and so far Magellan has used the sonar on offshore pipelines, shortening the traditional survey time by nine-tenths. Part of the funding has also been used to investigate high speed data collection and subsequently a new system of handling and analysing data has been developed.
The research focus within Magellan enabled the design and manufacture of a cable burial jetting machine that sits beneath the ROV that can cut trenches for burying fibre optic cable. Up until now conventional cable laying procedure has sometimes been unable to bury the cable to the required depth.
Magellan is the largest underwater inspection business in the country, growing out of the departure from New Zealand of international companies involved in the earlier development of the Maui oil field.
Stewart Kidd was one of the original staff in the first US-based organisation involved in underwater inspection in New Zealand and, together with two other staff from the same company, formed Magellan in 1998.
He says the jobs are always challenging, with sometimes only a small timeframe when tidal currents drop below the two knot maximum in which the ROV can work, but says this past year has been ‘frantic’ with underwater construction and maintenance work.
And for the clever little ROVs now equipped with the latest technology, it seems the seabed’s the limit, with uses ranging from searching for the black boxes from aircraft crashes, to what Stewart Kidd calls the ‘next big challenge’ – looking at underwater volcanoes.
Backgrounder Grants for Private Sector R&D
Ø This is the newest scheme run under the Technology New Zealand umbrella.
Ø Grants are targeted specifically to technologically aware SMEs (usually less than $50m turnover). The aim is to increase the level of private sector expenditure of R&D.
Ø Support of up to 33.3% of R&D costs, to a maximum of $100,000 is available for qualifying projects.
Ø Latest figures show that around $1.5m per month is being invested in private sector R&D projects by GPSRD.
Ø The scheme has allocated more than $15.8 million, to 268 companies, since it was launched in September last year.
Ø GPSRD is the first of the Technology New Zealand schemes to operate exclusively via the Internet, with initial registration through its website, www.technz.co.nz.