Hydrocarbon exploration and production is moving into increasingly extreme environments as exemplified by the Kashagan field in Kazakhstan. This has high concentrations of high pressure hydrogen sulphide gas, extreme climactic variations, and remote normally unmanned islands that can be difficult to access at certain times of the year. Therefore, the North Caspian Operating Company (NCOC) decided to investigate whether its production operators could work from the safety and comfort of the control room while operating on-site robots.
Sensabot evolved from this challenge. It is characterised by its ability to operate in potentially explosive environments, long intervals between routine maintenance, and the fact that it can operate in walkways that have already been designed for human access.
The Sensabot project was launched in 2010 and has been led by Shell on NCOC's behalf. The Mark 1 Sensabot was delivered in 2011 and contained an array of cameras, gas detectors, a vibration detector and a microphone. Trials of this robot were very successful so the development project was continued resulting in a manipulation arm and Sensabot Mark 2. The latter is now proceeding through the certification process for Zone 1 explosive environments with a view to deployment in Kazakhstan during 2016.
Leaders of upstream oil and gas companies will benefit from an understanding of Sensabot's capabilities and of the implications for improved operational safety. There are also early indications that robots might improve operational efficiency in extreme environments.