Earth-based rovers to save lives in the oil and gas sector
Technologies beingdeveloped for ESA's next generation of ExoMars rover could soon be putto work saving lives in a more terrestrial setting. GMV, an ESApartner in rover development, is designing a robot to be used in thegas and oil industry. It's a move which could mitigate some of thehuman risk inherent with labor in the sector.
The Flipper-based Oil &Gas ATEX Intelligent Robotics System (Foxoris) robot is beingdeveloped by GMV to take part in the three-year Total oil and gascompany’s Autonomous Robot for Gas and Oil Sites (Argos). Thecompetition will require competing robots to survive and operate inextremely inhospitable environments, in this case ahydrocarbon production site.
When designing the rover,GMV drew on experience accrued from developing both ESA's ExoMarsrover, and the Meteron communications protocols. The robot boastsautonomous navigation, gas sensors, microphones and thermal imagers.This multitude of sensors will allow Foxoris to detect and localize gasleaks, and determine whether a surface is dangerously hot. Should ananomaly be detected, the robot will then determine whether or not it is necessary to trigger an alarm.
"We want the robot tobe able to move anywhere on a production facility that a human can gotoday," states Kris Kydd of Total's Exploration & ProductionR&D Department, and project manager for Argos. "Then, using artificial intelligence, we want the robots to be ableto read and record the values on the instrumentation, and to knowautonomously whether they are normal or not. If there is an abnormalsituation, the robot has to alert the remote operator."
The five teamscompeting in the Argos competition must face three sets of tests at amock-up facility in Lacq, France. The first test took place in June,and saw Foxeris distinguish itself as it navigated the trickyenvironment. The next round of the competition is scheduled for June2016.
Regardless of whoemerges victorious from the challenge, the work carried out by GMV isa perfect example of how space exploration can reap real-worldresults for those back on Earth. Furthermore, once the technology isdeveloped, it has the potential to be employed in a wide variety ofscenarios in which human lives would otherwise be put at risk.
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Hopefully there will be more and more examples of these kinds of transfers, especially into applications that benefit more people on a day to day basis. For anyone looking for more information, I've seen that ESA has a full technology listing at esa-tec.eu