Robots tested for oil and gas rig duty

Total is pitching five teams of robotics experts against each other in the Autonomous Robot for Gas and Oil Sites (Argos) Challenge, a three-year competition aiming to develop an autonomous robot which is able to operate in hazardous and extreme conditions on oil and gas rigs.

It is envisaged that autonomous robots will in future strengthen operators' safety by performing routine, repetitive tasks such as inspections, as well as detecting anomalies, alerting operators and intervening in emergencies.

The teams taking part are Team air-k from Japan, Team Argonauts from Germany and Austria, Team Foxiris from Spain and Portugal, Team Lio from Switzerland and Team Vikings from France.

The brief that Total gave to the teams states that the robots should not weight more than 100kg, must be narrow enough not to obstruct the 70cm-wide walkways and be capable of reading measurements at heights of up to 2m.

The robots must pass three sets of tests at a plant in Lacq, France, the first of which took place in June. The gas dehydration unit features stairs, narrow walkways and obstacles typical of those found in production plants. The tests for the team on this stage of the competition challenged the teams' abilities to carry out inspection missions, risk management and endurance tasks.

Following the first set of five days' tests, the Argos jury commented on the three teams of the five to complete the speed and endurance tests: "Vikings performed an inspection mission autonomously in a record time of three minutes and 30 seconds, Argonauts demonstrated a very good man-machine interaction system and Foxiris distinguished itself by its exceptional endurance."

The teams now have nine months to improve their performance before the second competition in March 2016 which, Total say, will be decisive for the final classification.