American Oil and Gas Reporter - April 2018 - 28

VISION2020
Today, however, transformation isn't being birthed by the
fortuitous union of our own bright ideas, such as horizontal
drilling and hydraulic fracturing. It's emerging from the unlikely
marriage of Silicon Valley and Cotton Valley, if you will-technology and Texas.
It only makes sense that the industry would continue to
leverage the investments it already has made over the years in
technology for as long as they pay dividends. That said, a truly
disruptive technology makes existing systems and methods obsolete. We see their unmistakable signs of technologies taking
disruptive form in upstream oil and gas: artificial intelligence,
machine learning, cloud computing, predictive analytics, robotics,
the Internet of things. Other examples include nanotechnology,
composites, chemistry and even genomics.
Here's the thing with disruptive technologies: You never
quite know where they are going to come from or when they
will come calling. However, let us look at a few of the offspring
of the Silicon Valley-Cotton Valley union, still in their infancies,
that I consider both imminently and eminently disruptive.
Subsea Robots
Veterans of NASA's robotics laboratory founded a Houston
startup in 2014, combining their expertise in low-bandwidth and
long-distance communications, robotic operating systems, and
autonomous vehicles. Then they went looking for costly commercial
problems to solve. Right down the road they discovered a $2
billion annual market ripe for disruption: subsea services.
In the Gulf of Mexico alone, we have drilled 53,000 wells
and installed enough pipelines on the seafloor to circle the
Earth. The North Sea is much the same.
Energy companies must inspect, repair and maintain an astounding amount of subsea assets every year, regardless whether
any new development takes place. Yet, there is absolutely zero
technological differentiation between the dozens of remotely
operated vehicles working in the Gulf.
Every player in this fragmented market-including the few
dominant ones-will send a big, unwieldy vessel off shore, drop
overboard a refrigerator with cameras and manipulator arms,
and assign a crew of six or seven to remotely operate this

"robot" by way of a long, complex tether that threatens to
tangle at every twitch of the joystick.
Houston Mechatronics had a disruptively different idea: Get
rid of the ship, remove the tether, and replace the ROV with an
AURV (autonomous underwater robotic vehicle) capable of
transporting itself to a job site as far as 200 kilometers from
shore, navigating pipelines like so many branching roadways.
Once there, transform the hull from an efficient long-range
cruiser to a stable work platform. This could effectively slash
the majors' $227 million average annual payment in half.
Using very low-data distillation techniques developed for
communication with autonomous robots in space and modelbased software that creates a complex immersive environment
in real time, a single specialist can "supervise"-rather than laboriously control-a small fleet of autonomous robots with a
few clicks of a mouse.
The autonomous subsea vehicle is only one of the intelligent
robots to emerge from this union of tech and Texas. A pipe
inspection robot crawls inside certain types of pipe and
acquires data no one has collected before. An advanced manufacturing robot performs craftsman level work, adapting its
behavior based on experience, effectively removing humans
from harm's way.
What robots bring to oil and gas is the ability not simply to
crunch big data, but to act efficiently on that data by manipulating
the physical environment. Robots may well become the most
iconic technology of the 21st Century.
Nanoscale Sensors
If medical technologists can put tiny sensors in the human
body to search for, say, cancer cells, why can't we insert autonomous micro- or nanoscale sensors into the body of the
Earth to interrogate oil and gas reservoirs? That is the question
founders of the Advanced Energy Consortium asked themselves
while attending a medical conference 10 years ago. Not yet a
startup company, the consortium today, headquartered at the
University of Texas, is ready to commercialize a distinctly disruptive technology known as "smart dust."
The size of a single letter on a dime, smart dust is the tiniest

Conventional

Autonomous Underwater Robotic Vehicle

Mechatronics has replaced an unwieldy, tethered remotely operated
vehicle with an autonomous underwater robotic vehicle capable
of transporting itself as far as 200 kilometers from shore. Using

very low-data distillation techniques, a single operator can
supervise a fleet of autonomous robots.

28 THE AMERICAN OIL & GAS REPORTER



American Oil and Gas Reporter - April 2018

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