Dirty job: Cute robot roughneck heads to offshore oil rig

The telegenic and highly nimble robotic quadruped performs crucial functions on offshore installations.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer

A nimble robotic quadruped made famous in a flurry of viral videos will head offshore to help oil companies keep offshore installations running smoothly. This is the latest deployment for Spot, a robot created by Boston Dynamics that's amassing an impressively diverse resume as its adopted by more commercial enterprises.

After an initial early adopter program concluded successfully, Spot officially went on sale to commercial users earlier this year. The oil rig deployment is a good example of the utility of a nimble, task agnostic platform that can be used for inspection in heavy industries and dangerous environments.

The deployment is the work of Cognite, a global industrial AI software-as-a-service (SaaS) company, which partnered with Aker BP to deploy Spot on the Skarv installation, 210 kilometers offshore in the North Sea. The mission was designed to test how a platform like Spot might be used to collect images, scans, and sensor readings on the rig.

"Missions like these demonstrate Spot's value in difficult environments. Cognite continues to excel in testing and validating Spot's ability to reduce risk to humans and provide value in the energy industry," said Michael Perry, Vice President of Business Development at Boston Dynamics.

The test run is part of a robotics-driven digital transformation for Aker BP. Data from Spot was available almost instantly via a Cognite dashboard, and Spot was remote controlled from a Cognite home office onshore demonstrating how teleoperated robots can effectively conduct missions in sensitive environments. 

"This historic pairing of minds and machines working together to solve industry problems demonstrates that data driven decisions can change industry now," said Dr. John Markus Lervik, CEO of Cognite. "This ability to guide Spot by remote control is a huge step forward for the industry and something we will continue to work closely with our partners on as we continue to innovate and provide data driven solutions."

Designed as a task-agnostic autonomous platform, Spot is well suited to applications like pipeline and infrastructure inspection, security & defense, and search & rescue. Under an early adopter program, Boston Dynamics previously released 150 Spot robots to businesses and research institutions, where they were used in power generation facilities, factory floors, and construction sites, to name a few. In one deployment, a construction firm in Canada used a Spot robot to automate the capture of thousands of images weekly on a 500,000 square foot building site, creating an ongoing record of progress and enabling the builders to identify growing problems and inefficiencies early. NASA's JPL also used spot in DARPA's SubT challenge.

The trial of Spot in oil infrastructure inspection presents a promising opportunity for Boston Dynamics and demonstrates how task-agnostic robots might play increasingly prominent roles in digital transformation efforts of heavy asset industries.

"We are eager to explore how robotics systems can make offshore operations safer, more efficient, and more sustainable. The Spot offshore visit at the Skarv FPSO is one small step towards Aker BP's vision to digitalize all our operations from cradle to grave to increase productivity, enhance quality, and improve the safety of our employees," says Karl Johnny Hersvik, CEO of Aker BP.

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