High uptime of petroleum plants, simple logistics, and good Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) conditions are all key factors for a successful petroleum industry. These issues need particular attention when facing new challenges with, e.g., production in more remote areas, but are also highly relevant for many current petroleum installations. Automation and remote supervision and control are both important areas which can address these challenges. To this end, robots are already contributing subsea, but also have the potential to contribute with significant benefits within both the offshore topside and onshore petroleum industry. Such robot technology, often termed offshore robotics, is currently not commercially available and a large scale joint effort is required in order to realize its inherent potential.
Offshore robotics has been a topic of research and development for quite some years and relevant concepts and demonstrators have been developed. However, there are still significant challenges that need to be met in order to take advantage of the opportunities that robots can provide and realize commercial solutions. In this paper, we describe some of the important challenges to be met for enabling this inherent potential. There are both technical and organizational challenges, where the latter include, e.g., building acceptance for new technologies and responsibility issues in connection with remote operations. We also elaborate on key opportunities represented by use cases for robotics within the petroleum industry. A focus is on inspection, maintenance and emergency handling operations. The state of the art on offshore robotics is presented including the activity within this field at Statoil and Petrobras. Successful solutions to the use cases can lead to improved HSE (e.g., fewer people in exposed areas), simpler logistics (e.g., less helicopter transportation), and increased uptime (e.g., through early fault detection and intervention).