Mines students are working with Mechanical Engineering (ME) professor John Steele and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) professor Qi Han to build and develop a system to automate oil and gas processes through unmanned robots. Blaster, the original prototype, will be deployed to the Petroleum Institute (PI) in Abu Dhabi to increase the safety in oil and gas refineries.
Currently, refinery operators are exposed to potential explosions, gas leaks and extreme weather conditions.
“We are trying to get robots to do the same operations humans can do, but by taking the human out of harm’s way, we are increasing safety,” Steele said. “Abu Dhabi can reach up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, so people are exposed to extreme heat as well as sand storms and possibly gas leaks. If the robot is harmed, you can always build another one.”
The robot is equipped with a methane gas sensor, video camera, microphone, thermal imaging camera, GPS, digital compass, laser-range finder and Wi-Fi client-bridge. Each of these sensors will help it navigate, avoid collisions and transfer information back to the control room operator.
EECS students Adewole Ayoade and Marshall Sweatt are collaborating to develop applications that will take readings from the sensors to determine the robotic location and remotely log those readings for analysis. Alex Yearsly, a ME student, designed and manufactured the 5-degrees of freedom robotic arm after taking over from Dan Albert, a recent graduate. John Steuben, a graduate student in engineering systems, designed and 3D-printed the sensor housing for the robot’s head.
Ayoade emphasized the importance of testing the robot in conditions similar to the refinery. “Because we are working on a real life project, we have to understand the environmental conditions of where we are sending the system,” Ayoade said.
Once Blaster’s build is completed, Ayoade and Sweatt will travel overseas to test its functionality and transfer the technology to faculty and students at the PI.
“I’m really excited; I’ve never been to the United Arab Emirates before,” Sweatt said. “It is an honor to be invited.”
Blaster’s capabilities will demonstrate Mines’ ability to develop a robotic system for inspection and operations. The robot will become the basis for a proposal to a French robotic competition called ARGOS Challenge, sponsored by TOTAL, in which contestants from all over the world will develop advanced robotic capabilities for oil and gas environments.
Watch a short video of the robot here.