According to Businessweek, a number of Texas companies have teamed up with a Norwegian firm, Robotic Drilling Systems AS, to develop an automated oil drilling rig that would take humans away from the most repetitive and dangerous tasks in oil drilling.
Concept based on NASA technology
According to the Businessweek article, the concept of the robotic drilling rig is derived from technology developed by NASA for the Mars Curiosity rover. According to NASA, the Mars Curiosity, while it is tele-operated from the control center of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has programming that allows it to take action on its own, based on data it collects from its various instruments. The rover, for example, has collision avoidance software based on data from its various navigation cameras The same concept is contemplated for the robotic oil rig.
Robotic oil rigs
The goal, according to Businessweek, is to develop fully automatic oil drilling rigs that can move to drilling sites based on satellite data, assemble themselves, drill an exploration well, and then move on to the next site. Robotic Drilling Systems suggests that the entire process would be overseen by remote operators using 3D interfaces. The technology would be useful on land and offshore.
Texas companies developing smart drill bits
A number of Texas companies are developing what amount to smart drill bits that can communicate to operators through high speed data lines as well as to determine automatically its speed and direction as it drills for oil or natural gas, according to the Businessweek account. National Oilwell Varco Inc of Houston and Schlumberger of Sugarland, Texas, are developing the communication hardware for the drill pipes that will connect the drills with operators on the surface. The Apache Corporation is writing the software that will allow the smart drill bits to determine its own speed and direction based on conditions its encounters will operating beneath the surface.
Walking oil rigs
While Robotic Drilling Systems is developing a 10-foot robot that can assemble an oil rig and handle the massive drill bits used in oil and gas exploration, Drilling Structures International Inc of Houston recently tested a 167-foot-tall oil rig that could literally get up and walk on its own without use of a crane. It could move one foot per minute, adequate for moving around in a promising oil and gas field, according to Businessweel.
Human factor removed from oil and gas exploration
The theory behind automating oil exploration is derived not only taking humans out of dangerous work inherent in oil and gas drilling, but eliminating as much as possible the potential for human error. The BP Oil disaster was caused when a drilling rig opened a pocket of methane, according to a BBC story. A smart drill bit would presumably be able to avoid such pockets. If a disaster like BP happens with a robotic oil rig, there would be few if any human casualties.
Texas resident Mark Whittington writes about state issues for the Yahoo! Contributor Network.