Equinor Deploys a Robot That Can Find Its Way Around an Offshore Platform

An autonomous robot will be deployed on an offshore platform for the first time by Equinor. The operator plans to use it as its eyes and sensors on future platforms where humans will visit only intermittently.

Equinor is going to begin deploying this inspection robot at installations offshore. Source: Total/Ben Mullay.
Taurob Inspector

Equinor is taking a big, careful step toward using autonomous robots by deploying its first on an offshore platform where it will be inspecting equipment.

The 40-in.-tall information-gathering device on treads, called the Taurob Inspector, is part of the Norwegian oil company’s push to create significant offshore production facilities with no staff living on board.

It is not the first use of the Taurob robot by an oil company. Total, which was involved in its development, has one inspecting a plant in the Shetland Islands.

While the release did not say where the robot would be assigned, a previous story on Equinor’s website said it was headed to the Johan Sverdrup field center.

Starting in a technical center is in keeping with a systematic testing program. Robotics experts at Equinor have done extensive testing to ensure the code written for Taurob connects it to Equinor’s communication and computer systems. Testing at a large onshore facility led to tweaks in the mapping system the robot uses to guide it through inspection jobs.

It is also linked to Equinor’s digital models of offshore facilities. The detailed data in these digital twins will save humans from the tedious tasks of inputting the data needed to direct the robot to examine, say, thousands of valves.

As facilities become increasing wired for remote monitoring, the role of these robots is to serve as the eyes and ears at a site for routine inspections and in emergency situations. To prepare it for the conditions it might encounter, the robot was built to stand extreme heat and cold

Another requirement for offshore: the battery-powered device was certified for working in areas where explosive gases may be present (ATEX Zone 1 certification). Its cameras can point in any direction, create high-definition images, and do thermal imaging, which can be used to detect hydrocarbon leaks.

All of which makes the robot good at detecting problems. But the industry does not have autonomous devices equipped to repair what they detect on platforms.

“Only the ‘true’ maintenance/ manipulation tasks (e.g., performing small jobs/ repairs) and—for instance—cleaning require certain further developments to ‘outweight’ the human operator at this moment in time,” according to a paper delivered last November by Duco Dreneth, a special advisor with Dietsman Management (SPE 203076).

That is something Equinor is working on as part of a joint industry project with Total, Taurob, and OGTC, a technology consulting firm.

“We expect the result to be a robust and reliable robot, with maintenance intervals of up to only once per year; ideal for normally unmanned facilities where human intervention is rare. As a so called ‘work class’ robot, it will physically interact with the installation,” said Matthias Biegl, managing director and cofounder of Taurob.

For Further Reading

AI Meets HMI: Next-Gen Robots Take on the Tough Tasks To Reduce Risks on Rigs by Lynnmarie P. Flowers,Journal of Petroleum Technology.

While still in early stages, normally unattended facilities (NUF) are emerging in the oil and gas industry. NUF concepts are becoming a reality as the industry continues to enhance safety and reduce expenditure. The 2021 Offshore Technology Conference will include a panel of industry experts at operating companies discussing how NUFs are being enabled on 18 August. Topics will include how NUFs differ from sometimes-attended facilities; design considerations for when human interaction is not needed; autonomous operation including the utilization of robotics systems, advanced communication networks, and sensing for remote situational awareness.