Innovation is a hallmark of oil and gas operations. As companies look to survive in the new economy created by the oil price downturn, the need to find new, cost-efficient technology for manufacturing, data processing, or even overall project management, is greater than ever, so much so that the industry is examining other industries for products and processes that may have crossover appeal. 

That examination was the topic of a panel discussion at the Unconventional Resources Technology Conference in July, where a panel of scientists from firms and laboratories spoke about emerging technologies and new uses for old technologies outside the sphere of traditional petroleum that could have a disruptive impact on the industry.

Medical Science Crossovers

Olga Koper, oil and gas market leader at Battelle, discussed some of the projects the science research firm has developed in the medical field that could provide significant benefit to operating companies.

One such device, the NeuroLife Neural Bypass Technology, helps paralyzed patients regain conscious control of their fingers, hands, and wrists. The system uses a neuroprosthetic microchip that, when implanted in the brain, forms an electronic neural bypass that circumvents disconnected pathways in the nervous system. Battelle applied machine-learning algorithms to decode neuronal activity in the brain and control the use of a person’s forearm muscles. The chip picked up signals from the brain and transmitted the data to a computer with Battelle’s decoding software installed. The decoded data were then transmitted to a proprietary neuromuscular electrical stimulation sys-tem that provided isolated finger movements, essentially allowing a person to control a paralyzed hand by translating his thoughts.

Battelle partnered with surgeons at The Ohio State University to implant the system in the brain of a man paralyzed from the chest down. The surgeons implanted a 4×4-mm chip into the motor cortex area of the man’s brain, the area responsible for voluntary movements. Two years into the trial, he is able to transfer objects, stir liquids, and swipe a credit card, among other actions.

Koper said the algorithms behind the NeuroLife technology could apply to oil and gas projects, where owners, opera-tors, project managers, and on-site personnel consistently engage in real-time decision making while stringing together large amounts of data. The micro-chip used in the medical case is capable of collecting 30,000 samples/sec across 96 electrodes, producing a total of 2.88 million data points/sec, making it potentially useful hardware for a variety of management systems.

“There’s a lot of data, and it has to be filtered, you have to see machine learning of the right data transferred into specific motions,” Koper said. “With big data, the real-time decision making, this is what’s happening right now in the oil and gas industry. We have the technology, but there is not yet that direct type of application. We have to start thinking, how will we do this 10, 20, or even 50 years down the road? Where are some of the new areas where this will be a useful technology?”

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