How Ground Robots Improve Safety in the Oil & Gas Industry

Automating Inspections for a Safer Workplace

Jan 28, 2022

How Ground Robots Improve Safety in the Oil & Gas Industry

Oil & gas workers are frequently exposed to hazardous environments, high temperatures, and flammable gases. Now, ground robots can be used to investigate issues – keeping employees out of harm’s way, reducing long distance travel for workers, and enabling more unmanned sites that are centrally monitored. Read on to learn more.

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Dangers of the Oil & Gas Sector

Although the oil & gas industry has a reputation for being dangerous to work in, the sector has worked hard in recent years to adopt a “safety first” mentality. However, there is always room for improvement. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), 489 oil & gas workers were killed on the job between 2013-2017.

Vehicle accidents are the leading cause of injuries in oil & gas. Workers and equipment need to be frequently transported between well sites which are often located in remote areas. This means employees must undertake long shifts and drive long distances, often while fatigued. In fact, roughly 4 of every 10 oil & gas fatalities are the result of a highway vehicle incident.

Other causes of injury in oil & gas include being struck on-site by moving vehicles, equipment, or high-pressure lines, and falling from heights. Workers are also frequently exposed to high temperatures, chemicals, gases, and vapors.

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Send in the Ground Robots

Fortunately, robots are now being used to encourage safer workplaces and protect employees from many of the hazards they have traditionally faced. Today’s ground robots, like Spot from Boston Dynamics, can have an immediate impact on the safety of workers in oil & gas. One way this is achieved is through remote teleoperation.

A range of sensors can be attached to ground robots – such as 360 cameras, thermal cameras or gas sensors, audio sensors or microphones – to detect issues in an environment. The robot can then be remotely controlled from anywhere in the world using a platform like DroneDeploy. This means the robot provides ‘eyes on the ground’ in a hazardous environment, investigating issues before workers are sent in. It also enables the monitoring of multiple remote or unmanned sites from one central location.

If the data gathered by the robot confirms that an issue needs fixing, a team can be sent in equipped with the exact geolocation data, information and tools they need to resolve it, thanks to the robot’s accurate data capture. This significantly reduces non-productive time (NPT) and the amount of time workers are required to be within the hazardous environment.

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Automate Regular Inspections

Performing regular inspections is critical in the oil & gas industry, as it helps to ensure on-site safety, product quality, and compliance with regulations, while also reducing downtime or loss of production. But workers often have to travel miles between remote sites and then spend days or weeks performing these routine inspections.

That’s why DroneDeploy offers a sophisticated workflow tool that allows you to schedule automated robot missions. This means you can leave robots on remote sites and schedule them to perform routine rounds or inspections of oil & gas sites on an hourly, daily or weekly basis. Use robots to inspect assets for rust, corrosion or cracks, or detect gas leaks – then upload this data automatically to the DroneDeploy platform or asset management systems.

Planning autonomous robot missions is easy – simply drop waypoints (for the robot to follow) and actions (i.e. activate thermal sensor) in a map of your indoor or outdoor environment. You can also teleoperate the robot to create and save a route. These inspections can be scheduled 24/7, minimizing the need for employees to be on-site.

You can even integrate machine learning applications with DroneDeploy and use business logic to determine the robot’s next action. For example, if a gauge reading is abnormal or a safety hazard is detected, the robot sends an urgent alert to engineers, otherwise it continues with the inspection. These missions are deployed onto the robot's software, which means the robot can carry out tasks without an internet connection

Not only does this help you detect safety and maintenance issues early, but it also reduces the amount of time employees need to spend in hazardous environments and traveling long distances. By reducing the risk of both on-site and road accidents, ground robots are transforming the oil & gas sector, while also helping to attract new generations of employees.

To learn more about robots in the oil & gas sector, read our eBook "Ground Robots for Autonomous Operations in Oil & Gas," or get in touch with us.