Automated Drilling, the Industry’s Future

8. December, 2013 News No comments

The oil and gas industry has set the path to completely change how they will find natural resources. Since the beginning, drilling has been at the hands of humans, but this is about to change with the help of autonomous computer-controlled drilling operations – drilling automation.

Operators are continuously seeking ways of meeting their safety goal of zero people hurt on the job and reducing the costs of extracting hydrocarbons. Drilling automation seeks to do just that through process improvements, optimized rates of penetration, consistent hole quality and overall drilling performance, all of which allow operators to reach their objectives in the shortest time.

“Drilling is potentially dangerous, with rig staff and heavy machinery operating in the same tight space,” said Eric van Oort, a former Royal Dutch Shell Plc executive who’s leading a graduate-level engineering program at the University of Texas focused on automated drilling. “So why not let machines do the hazardous work?”

Automation has been widely used in several industries: aeronautics, automobile manufacturing, utility and power generation and general processing. Some may argue that these industries improved drastically when humans were partially taken out of the equation. Automation allows for repetition to occur without suffering from boredom or lapses in attention that its human counterparts are capable of  Robots are able to attain a level of autonomy because there are few decisions to make and there is little uncertainty or variability in their environment and tasks.

Apache (APA), National Oilwell Varco (NOV), andStatoil (STO) are among the companies working on technology that will take humans out of the most repetitive, dangerous, and time-consuming parts of oil field work. “It sounds futuristic,” says Kenneth Sondervik, sales and marketing vice president for Robotic Drilling Systems. He compares it to other areas that have become highly automated, such as auto manufacturing or cruise missile systems.

Robotic Drilling Systems is designing a series of robots to take over the repeatable tasks now done by deckhands, roughnecks, and pipehandlers on a rig. Its blue, 10-foot-tall robot deckhand has a jointed arm that can extend about 10 feet, with 15 or so interchangeable hands of assorted sizes. The robot is anchored in place to give it better leverage as it lifts drill bits that weigh more than a ton and maneuvers them into place. The company is also collaborating with researchers at Stanford University on a three-fingered robot hand embedded with sensors that give it a touch delicate enough to pick up an egg without crushing it.

Recently, Norway’s Robotic Drilling Systems AS, formerly Seabed Rig, developed an innovative autonomous robotic drilling rig for unmanned drilling operations. The company claims that the new system, Robotic Drilling System (RDS), sets new standards with increased safety and cost-effective planning and drilling and can be implemented on existing, as well as new drilling structures, both offshore and on land. The company has taken their product a step further by signing an information-sharing agreement with NASA to discover what it might learn from the rover Curiosity.


  • Horizon oil and gas
  • Robots: The Future of the Oil Industry,

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Mostafa Zayed

Mostafa Zayed recieved B. Sc in Petroleum Engineering from Cairo University and is currently Ambassador of YoungPetro in Egypt. His Professional interests focus on Petroleum Engineering technologies and related disciplines.

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