Oil and gas industry the next big opportunity for autonomous vehicles?

Underwater Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) are controlled via data provided by FOG-based inertial navigation systems.

It’s no surprise that the oil and gas industry is looking at what autonomous technology can do to improve their bottom line. According to a recent article in The Maritime Executive, the oil and gas industry is dipping its toe into the unmanned technology pool, driven by the need for cost savings and a new confidence in the capabilities of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). The result is significant anticipated growth in demand according to analysts at Douglas-Westwood:

We see demand for units continuing to grow over the forecast, with demand in 2020 expected to be 49 percent higher than in 2016. The greatest rate of growth in AUV usage is expected in the commercial sector – predominately from oil and gas operators.

The military forces of the world, particularly in the U.S., were among the earliest adopters of autonomous and unmanned technology in the form of aerial and ground platforms used for surveillance and security, such as checking for improvised explosive devices. Likewise, industrial manufacturing operations have long embraced unmanned systems for such tasks as automated inventory control, delivery, and tracking; and autonomous robots used in manufacturing are becoming quite commonplace.

Underwater Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) are controlled via data provided by FOG-based inertial navigation systems.
Underwater Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) are controlled via data provided by FOG-based inertial navigation systems.

As unmanned and autonomous technology continues to prove itself reliable, capable, and increasingly affordable, more commercial industries are considering autonomous and unmanned solutions.  Chief among these is the traditionally conservative oil and gas industry, as noted in Douglas-Westwood’s new forecast.

This will be a key market for the technology, despite the volatility of oil prices. There has been substantial interest from oil and gas companies in the technology, as operators have begun to understand cost saving potentials.

Autonomous systems are a particularly good fit for the oil and gas industry as much of their exploration, surveying and inspections are done either underwater or underground. This means there’s no GPS/GNSS to provide accurate navigation. That’s where inertial solutions excel when included in sensor fusion-based navigation and control solutions. These solutions fuse together multiple sensors such as GNSS, inertial measurement units (IMUs), high resolution cameras, Doppler Velocity Logs and other sensors to provide 100% situational awareness for autonomous systems operating in demanding, deep water environments.

Read how Greensea Systems solved the navigation and control challenges of small AUVs with an innovative and customizable sensor-fusion solution

It’s hard to overstate the challenges of working in subsea or underground environments. Many of the challenges closely align with those faced when working in outer space:

  • Lack of access to GPS/GNSS for navigation and positioning
  • Extremely hostile environment for humans
  • Independent power sources required (batteries, fuel cells)
  • Difficult to establish and maintain communications and control
  • Expensive to operate in both environments

That last one is of particular interest when it comes to the interest in AUVs by members of the oil and gas industry. Just as NASA pioneered the use of unmanned and autonomous solutions for space exploration and research, the oil and gas industry is ready to test the newest autonomous systems with the hope that these systems will deliver increased efficiency, safety and, of course, cost savings.

About Pam Cleveland 23 Articles
Manager, Inertial Navigation Marketing and Global Proposals

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