Five teams, selected out of 31 projects, took on the challenge. They participated in three, increasingly daunting competitions. "For the last step we wanted a prototype that was as operational as possible. The robots designed had to be ATEX2 certifiable, that is, able to operate in a potentially explosive atmosphere," recounts Daniel Plathey.
So the robots had to be able to perform routine tasks such as inspections, readings or checks, plus step in in emergency situations calling for minimal or no direct human intervention. All without creating any static electricity sparks and while moving around in infrastructure ergonomically designed for people, not robots. As far as Daniel Plathey is concerned, "The specifications were a real challenge for the teams competing. Paradoxically, less for technical reasons or because of the robot's intrinsic function, but simply because it was a first in the oil and gas sector."
Despite the difficulties and requirements, competitors are motivated. Total budgeted up to 600,000 euros ($642,000) for each of them and will award a 500,000 euro grant to the winner, which will continue to work with the company on a future project. The next step is to conduct a pilot project at a site under real-life conditions. It is "a way to put into practice everything learned from the challenge," explains E&P's vice president, R&D.
The win-win ARGOS initiative makes Total more agile. "Total has deployed all the new technologies that have pushed the envelope in exploration and production, for instance in the deep offshore. Revisiting the way we work and conducting research differently is also a form of innovation," points out Daniel Plathey. "With the ARGOS challenge, we took the first step in open innovation. It disrupted our culture and the way we work. Today, we've realized that we must make a habit of seeking out new ideas and skills wherever they are. It's one of the keys to our future efficiency."
Ideas that might have seemed straight out of the pages of science fiction just a few years ago are now genuine possibilities. Examples include spacing out inspections performed by people, improving safety and automating increasingly complex facilities. "We look at the major economic sectors that are innovating or have innovated in robotics, such as space, defense, medicine and automotive manufacturing. They did extensive research and we're evaluating how we can leverage their results to be more efficient. For instance, how could we incorporate a totally automated space lab into our installations, because robots will be better than us at performing certain tasks," says Daniel Plathey.
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Total's Innovation-Boosting Production Pilots