Waterloo robotics firm helps upright Costa Concordia

Waterloo-based 2G Robotics is using underwater laser scanners to provide a detailed picture of the submerged sections of the wrecked Costa Concordia cruise ship.
The partially submerged Costa Concordia cruise ship off the coast of Italy. Local Waterloo company 2G Robotics is scanning the ship to help in the uprighting process. (Courtesy 2G Robotics)

Waterloo-based 2G Robotics is set to deploy its underwater laser scanners to Italy next week to provide a detailed picture of the submerged sections of the wrecked Costa Concordia cruise ship.

The Costa Concordia struck a rocky reef when it ventured too close to the Italian island of Giglio, in January 2012, tearing a hole in the hull and partially sinking the ship.  Thirty-two passengers and crew were killed.

The ship is being prepared to be uprighted, a process called parbuckling, and later dismantled. Before the ship can be parbuckled, the company's project manager Hubert Palej will travel to Italy to scan the ship's hull.

"What we capture are called point clouds of data, which is just a whole series of points, each with an X, Y and a Z coordinate, that define the surface of the object that’s been scanned," explained Jason Gillham, the CEO of 2G Robotics. 

"Ultimately what it gives us is a three-dimensional picture which then allows engineers to capture measurements so then they can form decisions about what they need to do."

Those point clouds can be put into drafting software like CAD, enabling engineers to create a detailed 3D picture.

How to upright a sunken ship

According to the Italian Civil Protection department, final inspections are expected to be completed soon. Once those steps are completed — weather and waves permitting — the parbuckling can begin.

The Costa Concordia will be rotated horizontally and hoisted upwards to bring it to an upright position.

"There's two steps to the process. The first is to roll the ship off of its side and then the next step will be to bring it up to the surface," said Gillham.

"We will be using the scans to give them sufficient information to attach the floats for them to actually raise the ship."

Italian authorities say they will hold a news conference to announce the exact date of the operation, though Reuters quotes one official who says the parbuckling could happen Monday.

The decision was made not to leave the ship lying on its side for the winter, because of fears that it wouldn’t be possible to upright it in the spring.

The Costa Concordia will then be raised up on flotation devices over the next couple of months and towed away to be dismantled.