The oil and gas world is always doing its best to evolve, improve and move the industry forward. Some great inventions, as well as investments, have really helped to reward its efforts; one of such is the introduction of robotics – in other words, the use of robots in offshore activities.
Robotics is an interdisciplinary branch of engineering and science that includes mechanical engineering, electronic engineering, information engineering, computer science, and others. It also deals with the design, construction, operation, and use of robots, as well as computer systems for their control, sensory feedback, and information processing.
Also, a robot is a machine especially one programmable by a computer capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically.
In the same light, the offshore industry is constantly looking to new technological innovations, and demand for robots in oil and gas is increasing as the technology becomes more refined.
Hence, we explore four applications of robotics in the offshore oil and gas industry as profiled by Offshore Technology.
1. ANYmal: it is described as the “world’s first autonomous offshore robot”, it is a quadrupedal robot designed to operate autonomously in challenging terrain. It is also capable of inspecting offshore sites and is equipped with visual and thermal cameras, microphones and gas detection sensors that allow it to generate a 3D map of its surroundings to carry out inspections and operations more efficiently.
Interestingly, ANYmal can use this map to learn more about and better autonomously navigate the space it operates in, and can also be remotely operated from an onshore control site to provide its human operators with real-time data. It was also first deployed on a North Sea platform in September 2018, performing 16 inspection points and carrying out a number of tasks, including reading sensory equipment and detecting leaks.
2. ARGONAUT is another interesting robot used in the offshore environment. It was developed as part of the Total-funded ARGOS challenge to develop “the first autonomous surface robot for the oil and gas industry”. It was designed with routine inspections and autonomous tasks in mind. It was designed in the same contest that resulted in the creation of ANYmal and contains many similar sensors, but unlike the legged design of its competitor, the ARGONAUT is a tracked robot and works in a pair, with two ARGONAUT units, working shifts and returning to a docking station when they run low on power.
Total E&P UK head of technology & innovation, Dave Mackinnon expressed that, “we are on the cusp of delivering technology that will improve safety, reduce costs and even prolong the life of North Sea operations. He added that robots represent an exciting new paradigm for the oil and gas offshore industry.
The ARGONAUT was deployed in April 2018, first working on Total’s onshore Shetland gas plant before being relocated to the offshore Alwyn platform.
3. Eelume was developed by a spin-off from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in collaboration with Kongsberg Marine and Equinor. It is designed to “live” permanently underwater and perform a subsea inspection, repair and maintenance tasks. Eelume connects to a docking station on the seabed, which makes it easier to deploy than a conventional remote-controlled robot that would need to be sent down from the surface.
Its unique snakelike body affords the robot greater manoeuvrability underwater, allowing it to enter restricted subsea areas that would otherwise be difficult to enter with existing technology.
4. E-ROV (Empowered Remotely Operated Vehicle) is developed by Oceaneering International in a partnership with Equinor and is a self-contained, battery-operated system designed for subsea operations.
The E-ROV operates remotely via an Ethernet connection, which allows the robot to be operated from a control room anywhere in the world. Equinor has also been developing a 4G network on the Norwegian Continental Shelf, with the E-ROV sending and receiving data via a buoy equipped on-the-surface.
Robots are obviously a welcome development in the oil and gas industry.