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Woodside eyes robots for hazardous work

Woodside eyes robots for hazardous work

Collaboration program with NASA aims to make operations safer, more efficient

From left: Russell Potapinski, head of cognitive science and robotics, Woodside, middle is Robonaut and on the right is Julia Badger, Robonaut project manager, NASA.

From left: Russell Potapinski, head of cognitive science and robotics, Woodside, middle is Robonaut and on the right is Julia Badger, Robonaut project manager, NASA.

Woodside Energy is one step closer to understanding how robots could potentially undertake hazardous tasks in remote environments, creating new tools for employees to use and making operations safer and more efficient.

One month after the Australian oil and gas giant teamed up with National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to develop applications for NASA’s Robonaut (designed to be humanoid and built to look like a person) in its own operations, the collaboration program is already making inroads, according to company spokesperson Christine Forster.

Together the two organisations are exploring how the robotic technology could be used to improve safety, reliability and efficiency in the high-risk and remote environments where Woodside operates.

Woodside will contribute its advanced cognitive science technology, being developed in its Western Australian operations, and NASA will share its expertise in Robonauts that are already being used for simple, repetitive, or especially dangerous tasks in places such as the International Space Station, the company said.

Forster said NASA will loan the Robonaut to Woodside for 60 months starting from mid-2017. “The first step is to undertake a feasibility study – where we will look at how this technology could assist our employees to perform their jobs better,” Forster told CIO Australia.

“To date, our cognitive science program has generated a lot of excitement amongst our people who are keen to see routine tasks automated to allow them more time to pursue high-end cognitive tasks,” she said.

Forster said the company has been running a cognitive science program since 2015, and is keen to explore its capacity to make operations safer, more efficient and more reliable.

“In fact, we have already received more than 300 suggestions from employees on how robotics could be used to improve our business, with a focus on enhancing safety, reliability and efficiency."

As part of the latest program with NASA, Forster said the company plans to study how the Robonaut could potentially undertake hazardous tasks in remote environments.

“This research program with NASA complements our existing cognitive science work stream. This is where we’re applying the latest in analytics and sensor technology to control and automate high-cost, high-risk or error-prone tasks to improve efficiency, reduce unplanned downtime by being predictive, and building collective intelligence that continuously self-optimises. We are excited to be working with NASA in this cognitive era and see real application for our industry.”

She said the company expects to gain key insights about operational efficiency and safety.

“Our vision for the program is to create new tools for our employees to use, making our operations safer, more efficient and more reliable. We see opportunity for this technology to enhance operations on our non-normally-manned facilities such as our Pluto and Angel platforms located hundreds of kilometres offshore Western Australia.”

And while the NASA collaboration program is new, she noted the company has a strong focus on innovation and technology.

“Innovation has always been in Woodside’s DNA. Advances in technology, including robotics, have been part of Woodside’s innovation journey.”

Woodside’s senior vice-president and CTO, Shaun Gregory, welcomed the collaboration with NASA.

“This is a unique partnership for NASA and is an exciting opportunity to accelerate Woodside’s innovative cognitive science program,” Gregory said at the time of the collaboration launch.

“The partnership fits well with our collaborative approach to innovation. We want the best thinkers from inside and outside our company to be working on solutions that unlock value in our operations. It also supports the Western Australian innovation agenda and will help our state realise its potential to be a global centre for scientific and technological excellence.”


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Tags advanced cognitive sciencerobotic technologyNASAhigh-risk environmentsRobonauthumanoidWoodside Energy

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