THE ARGOS PROJECT: AUTONOMOUS ROBOTS FOR OIL & GAS SITES
One of the missions of the R&D teams is to lay the groundwork for the facilities of the future, which will be simpler, lighter and less costly, with fewer annual maintenance visits. The Next-Generation Facilities project embodies this approach, and combines reduced technical costs, operational excellence and maintaining high HSE standards. Surface robotics, promoted through the ARGOS project, is a key element of our future unmanned architectures. And for good reason, since the robot will be able to hear or see gas leaks or hot points (fire outbreaks) thanks to its many sensors (spectral and infrared cameras, gas detectors, ultrasounds, etc.). It can also be deployed in potentially dangerous operations, such as the search for or confirmation of a gas leak, in order to minimize the exposure of operators on site. On-site safety will be improved as a consequence.
FROM EXPERIMENTATION TO INDUSTRIALIZATION: CONFIRMING THE RELIABILITY OF DIFFERENT FUNCTIONALITIES
The ARGOS challenge was kicked off in late 2013 in order to create the first generation of autonomous and ATEX-certified (explosive atmospheres) surface robots able to operate on our sites. As part of an open innovation approach, the competition called on the very best external competencies – sometimes completely removed from our own professions – knowing that we had set high expectations in terms of functionalities: the robot had to be able to autonomously detect anomalies in relation to a known standard situation (leaks, hot points, obstacles, etc.), monitor process parameters, create 3D maps, and maneuver on all types of surfaces present on the installation, including climbing up and down stairs.
However, the aim of the ARGOS challenge was just to validate the feasibility of the concept. The robot’s viability in our daily operations still needs to be confirmed. This is why the winning prototype (version 0.0) has undergone additional research in terms of design and programming in partnership with TAUROB, an Austrian company specialized in robotics. The new robot called OGRIP (Offshore Ground Robotics Industrial Pilot) version 1.0 will be deployed in an industrial environment on our Shetlands site.
This project is a world first and was kicked off in September 2019 with the support of the OGTC (Oil & Gas Technology Centre in Aberdeen). The robot will be passed on from its developers to our operators to be tested over a 12-month period. We will also be testing using several robots at once on the same installation.
THE ARGOS JIP (JOINT INDUSTRY PROJECT): SHARING OUR VISION
This new technology cannot be deployed without adopting a new operating philosophy on our industrial sites. It will be impossible to introduce a change like this on a future development without the support of our partners. It was to share this common vision as well as development efforts in the field of surface robotics that we instigated the creation of the ARGOS JIP in partnership with EQUINOR and the OGTC.
The JIP is set for a duration of seven years and will be divided up into two-year phases, each with the objective of delivering a new version of the robot more complex than its predecessor. Phase I aims to make the transition from version 1.0 (OGRIP robot) to version 2.0 to deliver the first robot able to operate a wellhead platform. The robots will be fitted with high-performance batteries specially designed by SAFT that were first applied during the 2020 ExoMars Rover (Rosalind Franklin) space mission.
ACQUIRING A ROBOTIC TEST SITE
Having never had the chance to directly operate a surface robot, we are also stepping up our skills in this domain. The objective is twofold: one) be able to use these new technologies two) develop the expertise required to define the specifications of the future versions of the robots as well as new operating philosophies.
This is the purpose of E&P’s robotic development platform in Lacq, in Southwest France. The testing area is right next to the TADI infrastructure and is optimized for robotics. It has been up and running since 2019 and includes a six-meter high modular structure and several test benches for testing the capacities of various equipment items from a remote control room.