The Oil & Gas industry has seen increasing costs of finding and extracting hydrocarbons, especially in remote locations, ultra-deep water reservoirs (400 m or deeper) or in hostile environments. Those new exploration frontiers have been increasing the production complexity and logistic costs. In such conditions, oil exploration feasibility depends on new technologies to optimize production efficiency.

One possible solution to this challenge is to increase the degree of automation in production units. New design concepts also consider the use of robotic devices in such scenarios. In this paper we present a robotics framework, SimUEP-Robotics (Robotics Simulator for Stationary Production Units - Unidades Estacionárias de Produção or UEPs, in Portuguese), aimed to enable planning the offshore platform robotizing using virtual reality techniques.

The SimUEP-Robotics is based on ROS (Robot Operating System), a middleware for exchanging messages between different devices and processes that cooperate to accomplish a robotics task. SimUEP-Robotics is designed concerning the offshore requirements and is a flexible framework that allows the inclusion of new robots and devices in a virtual operation scenario. This capability enables the robotization and automation of offshore facilities that gradually evolve, starting from a complete virtual scenario towards a complete robotic system operating on a real platform, progressively including real devices.

SimUEP-Robotics has an integrated Virtual Reality Engine (VR-Engine) specially tailored to provide realistic visualization of large offshore scene models in an immersive environment. The monitoring and management of remote operations of Stationary Production Units (SPU) is an activity that can also benefit by the usage of virtual reality scenarios due to the potential to reduce the complexity and difficulty in visualizing and validating simulations of operations performed by robots on a real SPU. The framework supports simultaneous simulation of multiple robots equipped with sensors and actuators like cameras, laser range finders and robotic manipulators. SimUEP-Robotics has also some specialized visualization tools like trajectory visualizer, ghostview robot animation, point-to-point measurement and a scenario editor that allows the user customize the target scenario accordingly. Through the use of those visualization tools it is possible, for example, to better understand the quality of the planned robot trajectory and propose new algorithms that can be further evaluated in the virtual environment. In conclusion, we argue that the validation process in an immersive virtual environment reduces risks and costs of real operation tests scenarios.

SimUEP-Robotics has also an integrated Robotics-Simulator which is responsible for taking care of task planning and execution based on the information of the virtual scenario provided by the VR-Engine. To illustrate the effectiveness of the framework, different robotics applications were developed. One is an underwater application that calculates the whole dynamics of an operated ROV to simulate and test complex ROV operations in deep waters, like the connection of a flowline to a Christmas tree. The other one represents a topside offshore platform scenario where different virtual robots, derived from real mechanisms like Motoman DIA10, Puma 560, Seekur and others, operates. Results obtained on a pick and place task demonstrate the benefits of the proposed robotics framework for offshore applications.

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