Robotics of all types and sizes with various applications have made headlines around the world adding fuel to the innovation fire. The oil and gas industry has always been a leader in pushing the boundaries of disruptive technologies. Now, with rising interest and investment, subsea robotics has the potential and power to transform the oil and gas sector as a whole.

Technological advancements and the continued race for innovation in nearly every industry is evident across the globe. For some time now, oil companies have turned to robots and drones to perform dangerous activities in the harshest environments. While some of the ‘oil and gas tech toys’ help save costs, many of them greatly improve performance and safety. This is as a result of fewer people being exposed to dangerous tasks and situations. 

Robotics In Oil And Gas

Everyone remembers the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster and oil companies have shown since then that efficiency and safety take priority in the oil and gas industry. The entire sector has increased its investment in and usage of robots and drones to cut expenses while improving safety. Let’s take a quick look at some of the initiatives over the last few years.

BP Robots And Drones Program

In the Gulf of Mexico, BP has taken extreme measures to ensure safety after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. They use a small robot, about the size of a small dog, which is tasked to inspect their Thunder Horse platform. The ‘magnetic crawler’, as it is known, has strong rare-Earth magnets and a high-definition camera. Drones with cameras also do some of the inspection work capturing the smallest of details that the human eye can miss.

BP executives stated that robots and drones can perform inspections in about half the time than a person could. Not only does this save time and costs but it also removes people from unsafe and often harsh offshore environments.

The efficiencies we gain by collecting data this way are significant. The safety factor is obvious

Dave Truch, technology director at BP’s Digital Innovation Organization (DIO)

Ultrasound Robots And Remote-Controlled Platforms

After the successful robot-drone pilot program at Thunder Horse, BP initiated similar programs at other platforms, Na Kika, Mad Dog and Atlantis platforms. In actual fact, they also use robots and drones at the Cherry Point refinery in Washington State. Here, the robots inspect vessels using ultrasound to identify microscopic cracks in the vessel walls. It has reduced inspection time to just one hour compared to 23 hours it usually takes people to perform.

Norway’s Statoil has developed remote-controlled platforms for small and medium-sized operations. Statoil installed their first unmanned wellhead platform, the Oseberg H, on the Norwegian Continental Shelf back in 2017. It is tied to the Oseberg Field Center and remotely controlled from there.

Related: ‘Going Digital In The Fourth Industrial Revolution

The First Autonomous Offshore Robot

A fascinating robot is ANYmal which has been dubbed the ‘world’s first autonomous offshore robot’. It was designed to operate in challenging terrain with the help of multiple sensors to efficiently carry out inspections and operations. This includes visual and thermal cameras, gas detection capabilities and microphones.

ANYmal uses AI (Artificial Intelligence) to learn more about the platform ensuring improved performance within its confines. An example would be in an emergency situation faced with debris in a search and rescue operation. The technological advances mean workers will be safer as they won’t have to put themselves in harm’s way.

In fact, it already saw trials in September 2018 on a North Sea platform. During the trial, ANYmal carried out 16 inspection points and delivered a number of telling results including leak detection and reading sensory equipment.

Total And The ARGONAUT Robot

Total has made their presence known working with robotics and deploying the ARGONAUT. This oil and gas robot carries out inspections and autonomous tasks in pairs and works in shifts. It can also dock itself when the power starts running low and requires recharging.

They aim to have an industrial scale robotics solution by 2022. According to Total’s E&P Head of Technology, Dave Mackinnon: “We are on the cusp of delivering technology that will improve safety, reduce costs and even prolong the life of North Sea operations. Robots represent an exciting new paradigm for the oil and gas offshore industry and Total is proud to be part of it.”


As the oil and gas industry looks to increase productivity and efficiency, the deployment of robotics will likely become a more common sight even amid volatile crude prices. A recent report from GlobalData stated that oil and gas companies like Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Gazprom, Repsol, Equinor, Total, Saudi Aramco, Sinopec and ADNOC already have considerable exposure to robotics research and development.

While there’s no denying that robots will take over some human jobs, they will also create new ones. These roles may actually be better suited to our abilities especially those which robots are unable to perform.

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