Robot submarines could crack open a $1 billion market by inspecting thousands of offshore oil rigs and tens of thousands of miles of underwater pipelines.
Lockheed Martin's Marlin — a yellow drone submarine — has already begun creating 3D underwater maps of offshore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, according to Reuters. Such submarines can do inspections of offshore platforms and underwater pipelines more cheaply and swiftly than remotely operated vehicles tethered to ships or human divers.
The Marlin can take 3D images up to 1,000 feet below the surface, speed along at up to four knots (5.8 mph), and keep going for up to 16 hours. A fleet of such submarines may prove useful for ensuring the safety of oil and gas drilling operations around the world — the Gulf of Mexico alone has 3,800 offshore platforms, over 40,000 miles of pipeline and about 12,000 capped wells.
Lockheed packed its Marlin submarine with visual and acoustic sensors based on military-grade technologies to carry out the underwater checkups.
The next plans for drone submarines include vehicles that can dive down to 12,000 feet below the surface for inspecting deepwater platforms, Reuters reported. Future versions could also carry a laser for better 3D mapping.