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Robots To Control Oil Drilling Platforms 96

Posted by timothy
from the nothing-can-go-wrong-can-go-wrong-can-go-wrong dept.
Roland Piquepaille writes "In 2015, and if everything goes well, oil drilling platforms located offshore Norway will be controlled by robots. Even today, these platforms don't use many people. But the idea behind the new platform concept is to install large modular process sections in unmanned areas to allow access by one or more robotic manipulators. In a few years, operators should be able to remain on land and to remotely control the oil drilling platforms. Obviously, this should reduce risks and costs. Tests have already started in a new laboratory in Trondheim. According to the plans, the researchers have 8 years in front of them to deliver the robotic tools able to control these very expensive platforms. But read more for additional references and pictures."
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Robots To Control Oil Drilling Platforms

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  • Security guards?
    • by hyfe (641811)

      Security guards?
      This is the North Sea we're talking about. *North* sea. It's cold, stormy and miles away from civilization (if you can call my dear home Norway civilized).

      I mean, piratebay jokes not withstanding, it's not exactly teeming with criminals.

      • by calebt3 (1098475)

        it's not exactly teeming with criminals
        Maybe not criminals, but millions of gallons of unprotected oil could attract quite a number of terrorists wishing to cause an ecological disaster. OK, so Islamic terrorists don't have many problems with Norway (that I know of), but they could decide that it would be better for their cause if the Middle East were the sole source of oil in the world.
        • by hyfe (641811) on Tuesday December 25, 2007 @09:49PM (#21818056)

          terrorists
          If you want to protect against a boat filled up with explosives, you need an army. Not security guards.

          Either way, I'm about as scared of terrorists as I am of the roving angry bands of pedophiles that roam the countryside. There's no global conspiracy; every single terrorists attack has had very real and very local causes. In my humble opinion the 'too much generalization is as dangerous as too little' proverb is as apt for understanding society as it is for programming.

          • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

            by westyx (95706)
            Actually a navy would work much better, what with all the sea stuff.
        • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          I'm more afraid of what happens when a crazy US president decides that Norway would be a great place to steal oil ;-)
        • by dvice_null (981029) on Wednesday December 26, 2007 @03:39AM (#21819706)
          > Maybe not criminals, but millions of gallons of unprotected oil could attract quite a number of terrorists wishing to cause an ecological disaster

          You mean greanpeace?
        • Terrorists would be much more likely to target neighbouring UK who are deeply involved with the Middle East rather than Norway.

          In fact choosing Norway as a target over the UK would be very counter productive, it would be saying that you might as well get involved in the Middle East, because you will be a target anyway.

          The UK sector has always been a possible Terrorist Target, so the SBS (Like the SAS but more expertise with boats) trains regularly on various offshore installations. I have been on a platf

  • by SamP2 (1097897)
    I for one welcome our new oil-drilling robotic overlords.
  • by HangingChad (677530) on Tuesday December 25, 2007 @07:59PM (#21817546) Homepage

    Makes you wonder why freighters aren't robotic. You'd have to load human pilots for the relatively short hop from international waters into port but there wouldn't seem to be any reason to have a full time crew. GPS, satellite communications, video cameras, radar, infrared...it would be near real time, at least at the speeds a freighter moves. If something goes wrong helo a repair crew out and fix it.

    Without the need to accommodate a full time human crew you could weld a cover over the top and seal it. Modern freighters are pretty automated these days, just take the next step. If they can automate a frickin oil rig, they should be able to automate a freight container.

    • by The-Pheon (65392)
      What about pirates? Container ships have valuable cargo.
      • by Viceice (462967)
        Thats even more reason to automate ships. Crew or not, pirates will take a ship if they want it's cargo. Having a crew on board just gives them hostages to hold for ransom.

        With an automated ship devoid of crew, not only could you harden it against intruders, i bet you could even have some interesting booby traps put in.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by eh2o (471262)
          I predict disaster. This will only encourage the pirates to go robotic as well, ultimately escalating to a global war fought out with robots remotely controlled by ninjas.
    • by jpellino (202698) on Tuesday December 25, 2007 @08:07PM (#21817572)
      Watch a season of Deadliest Catch and get back to us with your revised automation estimate. Granted the ship size is different, but when things go Charlie Foxtrot on the high seas you need not so automatic-able judgement call decisions made - and good luck getting a helo on a pitching and rolling ship.

      • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

        by the_humeister (922869)
        I wonder why such fishing is not illegal yet. You'd think that someone somewhere would have sued to keep such workers from working in such conditions. Oh well, I suppose as a society, we value our seafood more than the people who catch them...
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by don depresor (1152631)
          You know these guys are some of the best paid non-executive people in the world, Right?
          And that nobody forces them to do it, Right?

          Making their job illegal would only piss them and make some silly holier-than-thou people more happy because the world would be a better place (tm)

          And while you're at it, why not forbid people making other dangerous things, like... you know being cops or soldiers.
          • I meant manual labor when i said non executive, brain fart, sorry :P
          • robots are coming to soldiering. My guess is that within another 10-15 years, we will see America using robots to do the bulk of the work. Why would the USA military do that? So that they do not have to worry about body bags, or large fast logistics, or a troop in the field saying no, or reporting interesting things to the press, etc. The simple fact is that America is one of the smaller countries amongst the majors. It has been our tech advantage that makes 1 troop be do so much. Now, much of that tech is
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Comatose51 (687974)
          While we value lives, we also value the power and freedom to live our lives as we choose. Paternalism is condescending and degrading.
      • by vertinox (846076)
        Watch a season of Deadliest Catch and get back to us with your revised automation estimate. Granted the ship size is different, but when things go Charlie Foxtrot on the high seas you need not so automatic-able judgement call decisions made - and good luck getting a helo on a pitching and rolling ship.

        Actually, when I watched "Deadliest Catch" and "Ice Road Truckers" I wondered to myself when they are going to fully automate both tasks.

        For one, an automated fishing boat no longer needs any cabins or space f
        • by jpellino (202698)
          You might make some headway with an automated trawler, but sorting at the dock would then bring deepwater species into the shore, not a good thing. Fish factory ships could ease that, but good luck automating them and the feeders...

          Crabbers and long line (long=40 mile) fishing would be a whole lot more problematic. Hard to imagine automating that much imprecise work with many judgement calls.

          For contrast - we can pretty reliably dock two spacecraft with human hands standing by, in empty space with no shif
    • Makes you wonder why freighters aren't robotic.

      Man, and I thought everybody had seen Hackers [wikipedia.org].
    • by owlnation (858981)

      Makes you wonder why freighters aren't robotic.
      One simple explanation -- pirates.
      • Yeah, robotic pirates. . . .
      • by TimSSG (1068536)
        So, I have a solution to fight global warming. 1. Make robotic freighters. 2. This will increase pirates. 3. The number of pirates trends inversely with the global temperature. 4. Reduces global warming. The above is base on very few facts, but the same is true for other global warming solutions; so, I don't feel bad. Tim S
      • Wrong! In fact robotic freighters are more safe. Imagine pirates board a normal vessel and kidnap the crew, which leads to negotiations, etc.
        Imagine the crew is sitting near the swimming pool in Ceasers' Palace and controlling the ship. They see the pirate ship approaching and shoot off a couple of 15mm rounds from the freighter's guns (assuming they had). And EVEN if the pirates board, today's ships are so complex that they can be electronically locked down and even flood the cabin with argon gas.

        However f
      • Explain how pirates aren't a good reason for robotic freighters. It's not like the crew is going to fight them tooth and nail over their cargo. They're going to do what every crew that survives pirate attack does: hide out somewhere, hopefully behind a bulkhead, with a big heavy door that locks from the inside, and hope the pirates don't A) find out where they are and/or B) care enough to find a way in and kill them.
    • In Soviet Russia there was a proposal to have humongous submarines that transport oil under the Arctic ice. A submarine submerged 30 meters will not experience must storm
    • If something goes wrong helo a repair crew out and fix it.

      Because one helo hop costs as much as a full-time crew for a transoceanic trip?

      Also, helicopters do not have the range of their lesser, fixed-wing cousins. So the disabled freighter would need to drift within helicopter range of shore facilities.

      Freighters are manned because they have to be. People who know more about freight shipping than you and I combined have worked out amazing ways to shave cost and crew.

    • by downhole (831621)
      Helicopters have pretty short range compared to freighters. Once they get more then a few hundred miles offshore, you'll need an aircraft carrier in the vicinity in order to run a helicopter out to it.

      I'd also bet that half the time something goes wrong is due to storms. Good luck landing a helicopter on an unmanned freighter that has probably lost communication in a storm.
  • by pipatron (966506) <pipatron@gmail.com> on Tuesday December 25, 2007 @08:08PM (#21817578) Homepage

    From TFA:

    Obviously, this should reduce risks

    Reduce it for whom? Why is it that nobody ever thinks about the robots??

  • by fname (199759) * on Tuesday December 25, 2007 @08:14PM (#21817604) Journal
    It reduces risk to the human crew operating the platform. But if something goes wrong on the rig, I think that the risk of a minor accident turning into a major problem is much larger. What if there's a fire? Damaged by a passing ship? Sabotaged? With no human crew on board, the ability to improvise and solve new problems is seriously hampered.
    • by vertinox (846076)
      With no human crew on board, the ability to improvise and solve new problems is seriously hampered.

      We aren't talking about the Mars mission. You can always fly a helicopter out there if you had to within a few hours.

      Most of the time, when something major goes wrong on a tower they don't try to fix it other than shut everything down and abandon the tower. Chances are, if they couldn't shut it down remotely they couldn't do it in person which puts lives in danger anyways.
      • by RockDoctor (15477)

        We aren't talking about the Mars mission. You can always fly a helicopter out there if you had to within a few hours.

        Wrong.

        Sometimes you can get a helicopter out there in "a few hours". Other times ... go whistle. The weather at the heliport might be too bad to take off. The weather at the rig might be too bad to land. The maintenance crew you need almost by definition are going to be highly skilled and in small numbers, so you can guarantee that the flange-sprocketing expert is currently on a different ri

  • Norway's oil production peaked in 2001 at 3.4 million b/d. When they get these robots down there in 2015 there isn't not much left. On the bright side, oil will be at least a 1000 dollars a barrel.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peak_oil [wikipedia.org]

    • Re:Peak oil (Score:4, Insightful)

      by CodeBuster (516420) on Tuesday December 25, 2007 @08:40PM (#21817736)

      On the bright side, oil will be at least a 1000 dollars a barrel.
      No doubt you are backing that up by locking in some "low" prices on long term oil futures contracts with your own money right? I mean, who wouldn't want to act on such valuable information if they were privy to a "sure thing" in the commodities markets?
      • "I mean, who wouldn't want to act on such valuable information if they were privy to a "sure thing" in the commodities markets?"

        The sort of generous anonymous benefactors you would meet on the Internet? I mean it is Christmas after all. Maybe Scrooge has discovered a heart or the Nigerian scammers are out in full force to help pay for presents to their families.

  • I, for one, will welcome my new robot overlord.

    Think how much less messy office politics will be as I try and work my way up, as my worth will now be mathematically calculated based on my productivity, efficiency, and company history.
  • What does it do if the remotely control link goes down?

    Just coming to a stop can be a bad thing.
    • There's a reason why network engineers, like myself, exist, and why we build redundancy into links. If you design for failure, then you assume that a link will go down. A number of protocols already exist for this use, and any good design for a critical system will include a high degree of redundancy.
  • there are going to be a lot of angry unemployed roughnecks with a damaged ego, replaced by a robot...
  • Uh oh. Here come the Offshore Petroleum Extracting Cyborgs.
    Once they have the oil, what further use will they have for us? :o
  • and more like waldos. Or am I missing something obvious?
  • about 10 years ago i worked for a company in Austin that was designing a system where everything was remote controlled from chairs that looked more like the command chairs of STNG. pretty slick stuff.

    seems like this was the next step. if anything i'm surprised it took this long.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Deb-fanboy (959444)

      There are various stories of North Sea Oil platforms which were designed to be "remote controlled" but ended up being manned. Its pretty hard when you have a some conflicting gauge readings and you want someone go check. Eventually it is cheaper to man the platform rather than try to find someone to go out, learn the plant, and check those conflicting readings. Humans are very flexible and good at adjusting to a system that does not operate exactly as planned.

      I am reminded of a story my Dad told me from w

  • I for one welcome our new oil company overlords. Wait... they're already in power... never mind.
  • "The chance to begin again in a golden land of opportunity and adventure!" Philip K. Dick would be pleased.
  • An unmanned platform would need security devices to protect it from the "evil people" that may want want to blow it up, or damage it/disable it. Radars and laser beams blasting anybody that approaches ? What if that someday is lost at sea and means no harm to the rig but is just seeking refuge ?

    Leaving a platform of that price unguarded seem unrealistic. So will humans remain to guard it (cheaper probably) or will the platform be equipped with its own defense system, or will they send "Delta Force" when
  • We need to be careful. I once read a documentary [seibertron.com] about robots taking control of an oil drilling platform. It didn't work out well for any of the humans who worked there; the platform designer even suffered a mental breakdown [seibertron.com] due to injuries suffered at the hands of the robots.

    G. B. Blackrock owned that oil platform and I'm sure he would advise against robot control of other oil platforms.

  • Great. Why not automate the factories next?
  • As an electrical engineer who designs these platforms and also works offshore, this article was of genuine interest to me. However after reading it, I'm somewhat unconvinced. From what I gather, these robots are to be used on normally unmanned / minimal facilities platforms (usually wellhead platforms) or small production platforms at most. My objections to this are as follows:

    • Alot of these facilities are normally unmanned anyway. Operators go out to them to stroke a few valves and tweak some settings

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