Remote and autonomous geodata solutions
Tim Lyle, group director for Fugro’s Middle East & India division, talks to The Energy Year about how the company deploys remote and autonomous solutions, including uncrewed survey vessels (USVs), throughout the project lifecycle to improve sustainability and increase the value extracted from collected data. Fugro is a geodata company.
What is Fugro’s core business, and how do you support clients in the region?
Fugro is a leading global geodata specialist. Geodata refers to information related to the earth’s surface, subsurface and manmade structures. Through integrated acquisition, analysis and advice, we help our clients unlock insights from geodata to design, build and operate their assets in a safe, sustainable and efficient manner.
Over the 50 years that we’ve operated in the Middle East and India region, Fugro has gained a deep understanding of the local and regional challenges, circumstances and opportunities. A significant share of our work in the region comes from partnering with major government-owned energy and infrastructure entities that prioritise sustainability and digitalisation.
In the UAE, the energy market is critical for the country’s future, and Fugro has worked directly and indirectly with ADNOC on prominent oil and gas construction projects such as the Lower Zakum field development, where we are currently conducting survey and inspection for ADNOC’s upcoming EPC programme. One of our key focus areas is to support the industry’s transition toward more sustainable operations by decarbonising our own services.
In what ways does Fugro help its customers by offering full-project lifecycle services?
Fugro is a turnkey geodata company, which means that we acquire and analyse geodata and advise our clients on it. In the UAE, we provide a variety of solutions throughout the lifecycle of our client’s projects. We start working with them on pre-feasibility and site selection at an early stage, provide support with design and construction and perform post-construction inspection and monitoring of the built asset.
Throughout the construction of an asset, we help our customers keep the cost of capital as low as possible by delivering insights on ground conditions, thus mitigating risk and optimising design. These insights also help accelerate construction times and lead to smarter designs that can extend the lifecycle of both new and existing assets.
During the operations and maintenance phase, we offer a range of services to monitor the integrity of built assets and advise on preventative repair and maintenance activities that minimise interruption to our clients’ operations. We now offer remote and autonomous inspection and monitoring techniques and the development of digital asset twins that will support AI-driven advice in the future.
How are you supporting the region’s sustainability goals and its embrace of renewables?
As the demand for safer, more sustainable energy sources continues to grow, we see numerous renewable energy projects emerging in the Middle East, all of which are on an accelerated schedule requiring quick and detailed geodata. Our wealth of experience, access to past data and ability to acquire new data onshore and offshore allow us to provide quick insights into the ground conditions.
The Middle East is predominantly associated with the oil and gas industry. Nevertheless, there are multiple renewable energy projects in development, and we’ve had the privilege of participating in some of them from inception, such as the development of the Hatta hydroelectric plant and opportunities for new onshore wind farms.
Looking at our own operations, we’ve set a target to achieve net-zero emissions by 2035. To reach this goal, we are taking gradual steps to reduce the carbon footprint of our operations. One of these steps includes converting our marine vessel fleet to run on methanol, a cleaner fuel alternative.
Additionally, we are looking to replace our conventional vessel operations with lighter, more autonomous solutions. These innovative approaches significantly reduce carbon emissions associated with our activities.
How key are Fugro’s remote operations, and what impact will the Blue Essence USV have in the region?
Fugro is leading the development of remote and autonomous solutions for geodata acquisition and monitoring. Globally we have established a network of remote operations centres, which are essentially high-tech communications hubs that allow our team of experts to remotely control offshore survey operations. There are currently three of these in the Middle East.
The data fed into our remote operation centres is acquired by our remote vessels and vehicles. This fleet allows us to provide safe and sustainable remote surveying, inspection and positioning services. By adding USVs to our fleet, we have unlocked significant value and set a new standard for subsea inspection.
These vessels require no offshore crew and allow for real-time insights. This enables rapid decision-making on projects where every minute of delay carries significant costs. These USVs have also proven to be environmentally friendly, consuming 95% less fuel than conventional vessels. Looking ahead, we plan to further enhance the sustainability of these vessels by incorporating technologies such as solar panels.
The UAE presents favourable conditions for our technology, given its shallow waters and relatively calm environment. In Q4 of 2022, our 12-metre Blue Essence USV named Pegasus sailed into UAE waters and is now stationed at Al Mirfa Port in Abu Dhabi. Pegasus is the region’s first class-built USV and one of only a handful worldwide. It obtained full navigation licensing from the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure in April 2023.
How are your remote operating methods creating more value for your clients?
Our remote vessels and vehicles offer unparalleled flexibility and agility, enhancing our operations. These assets can remain in the field for extended periods, equipped with multiple sensors to collect vast amounts of geodata. As a result, we have experienced an exponential increase in the quantity and quality of geodata gathered, enabling us to gain deeper insights for our clients. This shift to remote solutions also allows us to provide these insights in near real-time, empowering our clients to make well-informed decisions promptly with the help of our technical experts.
How important is cybersecurity when it comes to securing data and operational signals?
As technology develops, our solutions become more digital, convenient and efficient. Many of our solutions are offered through online and cloud-based platforms, allowing for easy access, scalability and cost-effectiveness while eliminating the need for extensive physical infrastructure.
In our innovation portfolio, we recognise the growing need for sophisticated approaches in managing large volumes of geodata. Since data is considered the future’s currency, its safety and security are paramount. Consequently, cybersecurity has become a top concern for our clients and us.
The collection of terabytes of project data poses unique challenges, prompting us to evolve our governance and data security practices to preserve the long-term integrity of the data. To address these aspects, we actively collaborate with our clients.
As a company, we strictly adhere to compliance measures regarding signal security, particularly in deploying USVs and operating vessels. Our system ensures vessel signal security, communication safeguarding and data-streaming integrity. Additionally, we have established robust in-house software and governance procedures for efficient data management.
In such a rapidly changing industry, what changes do you see in the workforce?
We believe it is vital to provide training and motivation to young Emiratis, as they represent the future of the local workforce. This is why we are actively working to recruit local talent across multiple disciplines.
With the advent of new technologies and remote operational methods, we recognise the need for skilled professionals with expertise in emerging fields. We understand that proficiency in these areas will be crucial in the future. Consequently, our recruitment portfolio now includes positions that previously didn’t exist, such as data scientists, robotics engineers, cybersecurity experts and various artificial intelligence specialists focusing on machine learning. An example would be our remote operations department where we actively seek UAE nationals to participate in accelerated training programmes to become our USV pilots of the future.
How do you see the future of geodata utilisation?
The future of geodata utilisation lies in digital twins, where new and existing data is fed into a virtual model designed to accurately reflect the properties and behaviour of real-life assets that exist in both the built and natural environment. When paired with artificial intelligence and machine learning, these digital twins will allow us to discover patterns and make predictions at the touch of a button. Whether it’s understanding ground conditions for a construction project or monitoring environmental markers for climate modelling, this technology will unlock more powerful insights than ever before.