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Drones are now used in most industries and Total wants to optimize their utilization in innovative applications. HELPER, which stands for Human, Environment & Life Protection Emergency Response, is designed to do just that. With the world’s first autonomous multitasking drone dedicated to safety at sea, we now have a local solution for responding immediately, 24/7.

Fabien Farge

Best Innovators

Best Innovators 2017: Helper - Improving safety at our offshore sites - Exploration & Production - Total

Improving Personal Safety and Environmental Protection

The resources used to respond to spills, provide medical assistance, conduct search and rescue operations, as well as deal with other HSE requirements and crises, must be effective and fast to deploy.

The oil industry usually relies on helicopters, boats and tethered balloons. But all three have many limitations. Costly, polluting helicopters cannot differentiate the thick iridescent layers caused by industrial spills for example. They also have no thermal cameras, which means no night flights and no nighttime search and rescue missions to find people who have fallen overboard. Helicopters also take time to deploy and travel to the incident area, lowering the chances of spotting the victims.

Comparative performance of various resources

HELPER, a “Swiss Knife” Invented by Our Teams

This prompted Total to develop a drone approved by the French civil aviation authority DGAC. HELPER can fly 80 kilometers an hour and withstand 30-knot winds. The semi-automated industrial drone has the following equipment:

  • A combination visible-light/thermal camera.
  • A live photo and video feed to the crisis room.
  • A radio-controlled release function.
  • Anti-collision radars.
  • Automatic return to home in the event of damage.

Designed using Total’s multidisciplinary know-how — medical, security, logistics and spill response — HELPER includes several other patented innovations.

  • Dynamic geographic information system software that can generate a simplified map of the incident area on an ordinary touchscreen tablet. All the pilot has to do is touch the point corresponding to the drone’s destination. The drone takes off and flies to it entirely on its own.
  • A self-inflating, life buoy with a first-aid kit, communications system, radio, LED and GPS tracker.

A Useful Innovation in Other Industries Too

Initial results of the first tests conducted by Total E&P Angola were very positive. Especially in terms of environmental benefits — the drone’s usefulness was demonstrated during a spill response exercise. HELPER immediately calculates the spill area and can also track the oil slick’s drift in real time using a GPS tracker.

HELPER’s software and equipment will be useful in situations outside the oil and gas industry. That’s why we’re forming emergency preparedness partnerships, especially with the French maritime search and rescue organization SNSM.

The HELPER solution took first prize at the European Lépine competition for inventors and manufacturers in 2016. It also won the BIZNEXT Innovator of the Year award, handed out by the French daily newspaper La Tribune.

Best Innovators

The 10 Innovations Rewarded in 2017


A Core Value for Total


Place the Environment at the Center of our Strategy

A Useful Innovation in Other Industries Too