Technologies being developed for ESA's next generation of ExoMars rover could soon be put to work saving lives in a more terrestrial setting. GMV, an ESA partner in rover development, is designing a robot to be used in the gas and oil industry. It's a move which could mitigate some of the human risk inherent with labor in the sector.
The Flipper-based Oil & Gas ATEX Intelligent Robotics System (Foxoris) robot is being developed by GMV to take part in the three-year Total oil and gas company’s Autonomous Robot for Gas and Oil Sites (Argos). The competition will require competing robots to survive and operate in extremely inhospitable environments, in this case a hydrocarbon production site.
When designing the rover, GMV drew on experience accrued from developing both ESA's ExoMars rover, and the Meteron communications protocols. The robot boasts autonomous navigation, gas sensors, microphones and thermal imagers. This multitude of sensors will allow Foxoris to detect and localize gas leaks, and determine whether a surface is dangerously hot. Should an anomaly be detected, the robot will then determine whether or not it is necessary to trigger an alarm.
"We want the robot to be able to move anywhere on a production facility that a human can go today," states Kris Kydd of Total's Exploration & Production R&D Department, and project manager for Argos. "Then, using artificial intelligence, we want the robots to be able to read and record the values on the instrumentation, and to know autonomously whether they are normal or not. If there is an abnormal situation, the robot has to alert the remote operator."
The five teams competing in the Argos competition must face three sets of tests at a mock-up facility in Lacq, France. The first test took place in June, and saw Foxeris distinguish itself as it navigated the tricky environment. The next round of the competition is scheduled for June 2016.
Regardless of who emerges victorious from the challenge, the work carried out by GMV is a perfect example of how space exploration can reap real-world results for those back on Earth. Furthermore, once the technology is developed, it has the potential to be employed in a wide variety of scenarios in which human lives would otherwise be put at risk.