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We’ve been working on the development and use of autonomous ground robots for oil and gas operations since the ARGOS — Autonomous Robot for Gas & Oil Sites — Challenge was launched in 2013 and are now the leader in the field. We expect to deploy a surveillance robot at our gas plant in the Shetland Islands by September 2019. This world first will enable us to strengthen a promising technological building block.

Jean-Michel Munoz


The Argos Project: Autonomous Robots for Gas and Oil Sites

One of R&D’s missions is to pave the way for tomorrow’s simpler, streamlined and less expensive facilities that will require less annual maintenance. The Next-Generation Facilities program illustrates this approach with a triple focus on reducing technical costs, achieving operational excellence and maintaining the highest HSE standards. We see ground robots, with the ARGOS project, as a key component in future architectures operated without a continuous human presence. And for good reason: thanks to their many sensors — spectral and infrared cameras, gas detectors, ultrasonic sensors and more — robots will be able to hear or see gas leaks or hot spots (fires). We will also be able to deploy them for potentially hazardous operations, such looking for or confirming those leaks, to minimize the exposure of operators on site. This will greatly improve on-site safety.

From Experimentation to Commercial Scale-Up: Making Sure Different Functions Are Reliable

The ARGOS Challenge was launched in late 2013 to create the first generation of autonomous and ATEX-compliant (i.e., allowed in an environment with an explosive atmosphere) ground robots capable of operating at our sites. Based on an open innovation approach, the contest reached out to the best external skills and expertise, sometimes in areas far removed from our specialties. Our long list of desired functionalities included the ability to autonomously detect deviations from a known standard situation (leaks, hot spots, obstacles, etc.), monitor process parameters, create 3D maps, and move around on all types of facility surfaces, including up and down stairs.

However, the ARGOS Challenge aimed only to validate the concept’s feasibility. Viability during daily operations has yet to be confirmed. That’s why the winning prototype (version 0.0) has undergone additional research, design and programming in partnership with Taurob, an Austrian robotics start-up. The new Offshore Ground Robotics Industrial Pilot (OGRIP) robot 1.0 will be deployed in an industrial environment at our Shetlands site.

Scheduled for September 2019, this world first will allow us to test the robot in real-world conditions for a 12-month period, as operators take over from the development team in putting the pilot through its paces. The Oil & Gas Technology Centre (OGTC) in Aberdeen is providing support for the project. We’re also going to experiment with using several robots simultaneously at the same facility.

Timeline Argos - Exploration Production - Total

ARGOS JIP: Sharing Our Vision

Obviously, this new technology must be paired with a new way of looking at operations at our production sites. Proposing this type of change on an upcoming development can only work if we have our partners' support. That's why we instigated the ARGOS joint industry project (JIP) in partnership with Equinor and the OGTC, so that we can share our common vision and development work on ground robots.

The seven-year JIP will be broken down into two-year phases, each of which will be tasked with delivering an increasingly complex version of the robot. Phase I will aim to move version 1.0 (OGRIP robot) to a version 2.0, with the goal of delivering the first robot capable of operating a wellhead platform. The robots will be equipped with high-performance batteries specially designed by SAFT — the same as the ones that will power the ExoMars Rover (Rosalind Franklin) exploration vehicle that will be sent to Mars in 2020.

Setting Up a Robot Test Site

Since we’ve never directly operated a ground robot before and have no staff trained to do so, we’re also upgrading our skills in that area. Our objectives are to be able to use new robot technologies and to develop the expertise required to define the specifications for the future robot versions, as well as new ways of looking at operations.

That’s what prompted the E&P project for a Robot Development Platform in Lacq, in southwestern France. Backed by the Transverse Anomaly Detection Infrastructure (TADI), the new test center is optimized for robotics. The center opened in 2019 and includes a small, six-meter-high modular structure and a few test benches, so we can test equipment capabilities from a remote control room.

  • Aerial view of the Tracker robot on the TADI facilities zone - Lacq pilots platform
    Aerial view of the Tracker robot on the TADI facilities zone - Lacq pilots platform
  • Aerial view of the Shetland Gas Plant, Laggan-Tormore, UK - Exploration Production - Total
    Aerial view of the Shetland Gas Plant, Laggan-Tormore
  • OGRIP Robot during a test phase, Shetland Gas Plant, Laggan-Tormore
    OGRIP Robot during a test phase, Shetland Gas Plant, Laggan-Tormore
  • Taurob robot, Tempa Rossa oil field - Exploration Production - Total
    Test phase for a Taurob robot on the Tempa Rossa plant
  • Taurob robot, Gas Treatment Unit, Shetland, UK - Exploration Production - Total
    Taurob robot during a test phase, Shetland Gas Plant, Laggan-Tormore
  • OGRIP Robot during a test phase, Shetland Gas Plant, Laggan-Tormore
    OGRIP Robot during a test phase, Shetland Gas Plant, Laggan-Tormore

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