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The last few decades have seen an evolution in robotics in drilling systems. [1] Traditionally, machines have been built to replace manual labor, fitting into preexisting systems. But more recently fully automatic and fully robotized systems are being introduced into the industry. Robotics traditionally used to duplicate manual labor but now more companies focus on fully automatic or robotized systems.


Robotics itself has been around since as early as 4 BC, with the first programmable mechanism created by Muslim inventor Al-Jazari in 1206. The earliest industrial robot came about in 1937, but until the invention of the computer robotics did not truly take off. General Motors began using Unimate, which was created by George Devol in 1954, in its assembly lines in 1961. The introduction of robotics in the general industry has transformed the way we live, allowing products to be produced more safely, quickly, and cheaply. Within the oil and gas industry, robotics has not been widely accepted, but the 2010 BP spill was a turning point [2]. More automated systems are being put into place to reduce the number of human workers required while increasing productivity.


The use of electric motors presents many advantages over hydraulic systems, including [1]:

  • More accurate readings for improved anti-collision
  • Acceleration/retardation to improve system life expectancies
  • Easy maintenance
  • More cost-effective to produce than pneumatic/hydraulic systems
  • Faster and more cost-effective to install
  • Faster and more cost-effective rebuilds of existing structures
  • Higher efficiency/less energy consumption

Robotics has many advantages over manual labor alone, including [3]:

  • Faster drilling operations
  • High safety level due to unmanned operations
  • Lower installation, maintenance, and operations costs

Removing some or all of the manual operations on a drill-floor could be feasibly safer than fully manual operations. [1] But this is only true if the machines can perform the job more safely than a human. For example, it is likely that heavy lifting is more safely done by a robot than by rig personnel, but only if the robot does not harm or destroy personnel or equipment.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Soendervik, K. 2013. Autonomous Robotic Drilling Systems. Presented at the SPE/IADC Drilling Conference, Amsterdam, 5-7 March. SPE-163466-MS.
  2. Wethe, D. 2012. Robots: The Future of the Oil Industry. Bloomberg Businessweek, 30 August 2012, (accessed 13 January 2015).
  3. Robotic Drilling Systems AS. About RDS. (accessed 13 January 2015).

Noteworthy papers in OnePetro

Al-Awami, N. A., Khalsa, K. B. S., Pinero, N. O., Al-Baggal, Z. A., Mumen, A., & Zainaddin, I. A. (2009, January 1). Robotics for Horizontal Image Al-Awami, N. A., Khalsa, K. B. S., Pinero, N. O., et al. 2009. Robotics for Horizontal Image Acquisition in Ultra Slim Wells in Saudi Arabia. Presented at the International Petroleum Technology Conference, Doha, Qatar, 7-9 December. SPE-13808-MS. http://doi.10.2523/13808-MS.

Barrett, R. W. 1987. Advanced Robotics under Water: the DTI Initiative. In Submersible Technology: Adapting to Change: Proceedings of an international conference. Advances in Underwater Technology, Ocean Science and Offshore Engineering: Society of Underwater Technology.

Boyadjieff, G. I. 1988. The Application of Robotics to the Drilling Process. Presented at the SPE/IADC Drilling Conference , Dallas, 28 February-2 March. SPE-17232-MS.

Huang, C., & Nagarajaiah, S. 2012. Robotic MFL Sensor and Vibration based Deepwater Riser Monitoring System. Presented at the Offshore Technology Conference, Houston, 30 April-3 May. OTC-23487-MS.

Meyer, A., Roos, A., dos Santos, J. F., et al. 2001. Subsea Robotic Friction-Welding-Repair System. Presented at the Offshore Technology Conference, Houston, 30 April. OTC-13250-MS.

Nayar, H., Ali, K., Aubrey, A., et al. 2012. Space Robotics Technologies for Deep Well Operations. Presented at the Offshore Technology Conference, Houston, 30 April-3 May. OTC-22989-MS.

Pretlove, J., Skourup, C., Gunnar, J., et al. 2010. Robotics For Integrated Remote Operations. Presented at the SPE Intelligent Energy Conference and Exhibition, Utrecht, The Netherlands, 23-25 March. SPE-128232-MS.

Soendervik, K. 2013. Autonomous Robotic Drilling Systems. Presented at the SPE/IADC Drilling Conference, 5-7 March, Amsterdam. SPE-163466-MS.

Tetsuo, Y., Cargill, E. J., Gaynor, T. M., et al. 2002. Robotic Controlled Drilling: A New Rotary Steerable Drilling System for the Oil and Gas Industry. Presented at the IADC/SPE Drilling Conference, Dallas, 26-28 February.

Transeth, A. A., Schumann-Olsen, H., Royroy, A., et al. 2013. Robotics for the Petroleum Industry - Challenges and Opportunities. Presented at the SPE Middle East Intelligent Energy Conference and Exhibition, Manama, Bahrain, 28-30 October.

External links

DiFiore, Amanda. "Human Factors in Automation." : Web Events. Society of Petroleum Engineers, 22 Sept. 2015. Web.

Popa, Andrei. 2015. "Understanding the Potential of Case-Based Reasoning in the Oil Industry." Web Events. Society of Petroleum Engineers,

See also

Drilling automation