Argos: An Autonomous Robot for Oil & Gas Operations
Currently, no existing autonomous surface robot is able to meet the specific needs of hydrocarbon exploration and production activities. That is why in December of 2013 we launched an unprecedented international competition. Conducted in partnership with the French National Research Agency, the ARGOS (Autonomous Robot for Gas & Oil Sites) Challenge took an open to innovation approach to design and build the first-ever autonomous surface robot for oil and gas sites. Total is the first oil and gas company to trial this type of autonomous robotic solution.
The driving force behind Total’s competitiveness
MAKING OPERATORS and Facilities Safer
Hydrocarbon exploration and production activities are increasingly taking place under challenging working conditions. In the future, autonomous surface robots will replace humans when intervening in critical situations, extreme environments or high-risk regions (remote, isolated sites or areas with extreme weather conditions). They will make operators safer by limiting their exposure to potentially dangerous situations.
Working alongside human operators, these surface robots will be capable of navigating industrial structures, which are sometimes extremely large and exposed. The robots’ ability to carry out routine repetitive tasks will leave the teams free to concentrate on duties with greater added value.
Clearly, these robots have a great deal to offer. They will help optimize onshore and offshore operating costs, while enhancing the feasibility of projects subject to challenging conditions.
ARGOS have three main missions: carrying out inspections, detecting anomalies and intervening in an emergency.
An Innovative Approach to Development
To create the robot of the future, Total attracted the top players in industrial robotics by offering research opportunities as part of this momentous challenge, a first in the field of robotics. The decision to apply such an open innovation approach is part of the Group’s strategy of rapidly bringing hydrocarbon exploration and production operations up to date using the latest digital technology.
Designed and financed by Total, the ARGOS Challenge was implemented in partnership with the French National Research Agency (ANR). Five international teams, from Austria and Germany (ARGONAUTS), Spain and Portugal (FOXIRIS), France (VIKINGS), Japan (AIR-K) and Switzerland (LIO) were chosen in late 2013 from a field of over 30 research projects. Total gave each team a budget of up to 600,000 Euros and a time frame of three years to design their autonomous surface robot prototypes.
In practice, the ARGOS surface robot will have three main missions: carrying out inspections, which are currently performed by humans, detecting anomalous situations and intervening in an emergency.
- Perform autonomous routine or specific inspections, either during the day or at night.
- Be able to locate, read and record inspection points, take measurements and analyze readings.
- Detect anomalies, ranging from malfunctions to dangerous situations such as gas leaks, suspicious heat sources or excess pressure.
- Come to a stop when faced with an obstacle, the robots will come to a stop and determine whether they can navigate around the obstruction.
- Alert operators by transmitting data and images in real time and will move to a designated safety area when necessary.
- Be able to intervene during an emergency at an incident site, or in places where humans are unable to go, and provide a report on the situation.
Five teams of ARGOS Challenge.
Artificial Intelligence NCE
The ARGOS robot’s ability to deliver “smart reports” is absolutely vital. It must be able to not only read and record values from instruments, but also analyze any inconsistencies and independently deal with unexpected situations, such as detecting whether the readings are within the range of normal functioning, whether the terrain matches the 3D graphical map of the site, and so on.
Not to mention it must have ATEX certification, that is to say being intrinsically safe to operate in potentially dangerous and explosive environments. This is a crucial requirement for the ARGOS competition.
Testing Under Actual Conditions
The five prototypes were tested in a former gas dehydration facility in Lacq (south-western France) under conditions close to those encountered at Total facilities. The Challenge was divided into three successive competitions, during which the robots’ capabilities were tested in a variety of situations and scenarios.
As the competition advanced, the specifications changed and the level of difficulty increased to bring out the best from each team. For instance, to successfully carry out the missions they were assigned, the robots needed to be able to go up and down stairs, and adapt to changing environments at the sites by analyzing them and modifying their approach accordingly.
- The first round of the competition in June 2015 verified the development stage for each of the robots, particularly with regard to their ability to move independently.
- The second round in April 2016 tested them on their ability to handle unexpected events that interrupted their inspection rounds. The French VIKINGS team took first in both stages.
- The final phase of the competition was held in March 2017. The ARGONAUTS team came out the winner, and as such is chosen by Total to be the first autonomous surface robot to operate on one of its industrial sites by 2020. Measuring 1.04 m and 90kg, it moves on tracks and has an articulated arm that can reach up to 1.30 m height. During the competition the ARGONAUTS presented the highest level of technological maturity. As well as a very robust system and a successful engineering. Additionally it has been constructed using a modular concept, permitting ongoing evolution and change.
Total will hold the exclusive rights to the intellectual property for five years in the oil and gas sector. However, this type of robot could also be used in other complex industries throughout the world, with promising applications for public security.
The challenge tested the skills and capabilities of all 5 teams over three competitions between June 2015 and March 2017. The ARGONAUTS robot coming out the eventual winner.