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Oil Producers Look To Robots

In late 2013, Total (NYSE: TOT) launched a robotics innovation contest, soliciting entrants to develop robots within three years that could work on oil platforms. Total says that while robots are already in use underwater, there are no “surface” robots that work on platforms above water.

It sponsored the Autonomous Robot for Gas and Oil Sites (Argos) Challenge, a three-year challenge in partnership with France’s National Research Agency. The five chosen teams (made up of a mix of private companies, universities, and research institutions) must build robots to compete in a series of simulations intended to mimic real-life oil operations.

The robot prototypes are tasked with moving around a platform, taking pressure readings, checking valves, identifying problems, collecting and analyzing data, and autonomously moving into a certain position in the event of an emergency.

Many of the companies in the competition have experience building robots for space exploration, but Total and other industry titans see an enormous opportunity with increased robotics and automation up and down the oil supply chain.

Automation and Robotics Could Cut Costs

Total’s challenge focuses on safety, and it was initially conceived of at a time when oil prices were high. But the collapse in oil prices is pushing more companies into a frenzied cost-cutting mode, and robotics and automation are an obvious way to increase efficiency.

While oil and…

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