The renewable energy sector’s robot sheepdog

 By Amanda Saint

Robot sheepdogs could be redesigned and redeployed to help the renewable energy sector herd marine life, such as seals, away from offshore construction projects in a new European project looking at innovations that could help the sector…

Supply Chain innovation for Offshore Renewable Energy (SCORE) is a $7.8 million grant pot from the European Development Fund set up to support small and medium sized companies that are researching and developing new ways of working and innovative technologies in offshore renewable energy. One of the ideas to come out of the first brainstorming session held between companies taking part is a subsea ‘sheepdog’ robot that herds seals away from construction sites of offshore wind farms. The sheepdog robot is a concept that has been in development for many years following a project at the University of Oxford in the late 1990s. Led by researcher Stephen Cameron with student, Richard Vaughn, the project developed a robotic herder that was tested with ducks.

Robot Sheepdog gathers flock of ducks

Since then, Cameron has developed the project further with the use of robot sheep as well as robot sheepdogs to extend the theories without the complications of dealing with real animals. It’s thought that the concept could be adapted for the offshore sector by combining it with the technologies found in unmanned surface vehicles. The leaders of the SCORE development fund have said they are keen to also work with and learn from the oil and gas industry’s use of offshore robots.

Marine robotics

The recent advances in robotics have brought new capabilities and efficiencies to offshore energy projects. These include wave thermal energy, deep sea mining and biomimetic robotics. Researchers and developers in the renewable energy industry have increasingly been turning to biomimicry for inspirations. The offshore sector has introduced robotic fish for surveillance projects. Companies use marine robots based on sea-snakes for inspecting pipes on offshore oil rigs. Large robotic crabs now collect new data on the seafloor. Robo-jellyfish are also being developed to carry out environmental monitoring. You can see more information on marine robotic innovations here. So, with everything that has already been achieved, robotic seal herders seem to only be a small step away as the SCORE project kicks off. Several more workshops are planned over the next two years. These robotic innovations may prove critical to improving the environmental performance of offshore energy projects.

SEE MORE: What a robot crustacean means for energy by Amanda Saint

about the author
Amanda Saint
Journalist and content writer, specialised in engineering and technology with a focus on environmental sustainability, urbanisation and biotechnology.