The market turmoil of 2020 left the upstream industry with diminished ranks, palpable concerns over long-term demand, and mounting pressure to reduce its carbon footprint. This made for what many consider a bullish case, as JPT has reported, for robotics uptake over the course of the decade.

But there are reasons to temper expectations. After all, this is the oil and gas industry. The upstream land-scape is as vast as it is specialized. Each silo is a fortress of status quo to which robot developers must dedicate significant time and fortune in conquering. Some are worth the battle, especially in the offshore arena where factors of cost and safety have made this the most active corner of oil and gas robotics. Many other use cases may be worth bypassing.

About 70% of the world’s oil and gas supply is produced onshore which, of course, is much more accessible to human operators. That means a robot dog in the Permian Basin has to jump over a much higher bar in order to create value than a robot dog tasked with inspecting a platform in the middle of the Norwegian Sea.

Speaking of inspection, this is both the chief strength and upper limit for much of the current generation of robots. The next generation will be asked to fix things. And whatever they can’t do - or are just not the right tool for - look for it to be covered by industrial automation.

As a new class of oil and gas robots finds its niche, and fights for investment dollars along the way, here are a few developments to track and points to consider.

This Time It’s Different, Right Boss?

The upstream sector pulled back from exploring the frontier of robotics and drone technologies in the last decade relative to other industries, but it is now being pulled forward by societal and technological shifts, according to Ed Tovar who runs an Austin-based consulting company, InTechSys, that serves the defense and energy industry.

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