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Robo opp: from deepsea diving to dancing, the robots giving humans a helping hand

Release date:
15 July 2021
How can robots provide the eyes, ears, nose, and other senses where humans can’t? Plus, the latest on AI in our industry
🕒 3 min read | 📖 Feature| 💡 Why it matters

Robots are taking over – the dance floor at least. If you want an example of how far robotics engineering has come, look no further than this YouTube video of four robots dancing to a Sixties classic that has gained more than 32 million views and set the internet alight. Remarkably, their moves aren’t at all awkward or robotic, but smooth and sure-footed.   

The dog-like quadruped featured is named Spot and dancing isn’t its only skill. This robot has been in exploratory trials at bp to autonomously read gauges, monitor corrosion, and measure methane on some of our platforms in the Gulf of Mexico with the intent of enhancing safety and efficient operations.  


Robots in bp might not dance – yet – but the technology is advancing rapidly.

Test your knowledge

What’s the maximum weight a quadruped can carry?

Correct! A quadruped can withstand 14kg of cargo.

Oops wrong answer! A quadruped can actually withstand an impressive 21kg of cargo.

We are currently trialling three main types of robots in our operations: terrain robots, airborne drones, and marine robots both on and under water.


Here’s a quick guide...

So what’s the next step in robotic evolution?

In-house robotics expert Elinor Doubell, vice president of digital science and engineering, I&E, is most excited about the opportunity presented by autonomy. 


She explains: “Today, if we look at robots generally, you have a human directly in control. Significant value in safety, efficiency and sustainability is achievable when we move more towards autonomous robotics.”


Autonomy enables robots to be independently mobile – like enabling a vehicle to move independently of human control. Essentially, applying human-like logic to machines by mimicking the complex neuron systems that we take for granted. These systems allow us to walk, jump, run and avoid obstacles. Autonomous mobility has the potential to allow humans and robots to collaborate and coexist safely.  


bp has invested in autonomous vehicle software company Oxbotica, with the aim of deploying its first prototype autonomous monitoring vehicle by the end of 2021.


Deployed at bp’s Lingen refinery in Germany, the self-driving system is expected to help make operations less carbon intensive and will enhance the site’s monitoring capability to ultimately support our net zero ambition. Oxbotica’s software could also enable other robots that move, so other terrain, airborne and marine robots could one day be crawling, swimming, and flying themselves. 

Test your knowledge 

How many data points can be captured by bp methane monitoring drones?

Correct! A bp drone can capture 100,000 data points.

Oops wrong answer! A bp drone can actually capture 100,000 data points.

How can autonomous mobility help bp? 


Autonomous mobility can be applied to any moving machine, which means the possibilities are endless. Some of the ways it can assist bp’s operations, include: 

Enhanced monitoring

Currently, drones are operated with a remote control to monitor methane emissions and inspect flares at heights that are inaccessible for humans. Applying autonomous mobility to these machines would allow around-the-clock monitoring. 

Improved logistics

Getting refining samples to laboratories could be done much faster with self-driving systems, such as cars, quadrupeds and even crawlers. At a refinery, an operator will regularly need to take samples to be analysed in a laboratory. Autonomous mobility means the operator can collect the sample, send it to the lab and continue with other work.  

Increased environmental knowledge

bp is currently exploring autonomous mobility in underwater environments with robots like the Slocum Glider. The glider can move autonomously in the sea to do environmental detecting and sampling. It gathers data and reports back to the operators. The machine itself uses low energy and can patrol its route for weeks at a time. Technology like this will ultimately enhance bp’s knowledge in operations and help with monitoring biodiversity.  

Test your knowledge

What’s the longest time a Slocum glider has been deployed for?

Correct! The Slocum glider can remain at sea for 18 months.

Oops wrong answer! The Slocum glider can remain at sea for 18 months.

Robotics reimagining energy

And it's not just in our traditional oil and gas operations where robots can make a difference. Our renewables business could also benefit from intelligent tech. For example, keeping the grass at solar farms the precise length for capturing energy. In solar energy, the albedo scale refers to the amount a material’s surface reflects or absorbs light. Grass is high on the reflective scale and, as such, surrounds the farms and can increase the amount of solar energy produced.  

“The world of intelligent energy is limitless,” says Elinor. “bp continues to explore emerging technologies, such as robotics and their impact on the future. The exciting part of autonomy is that it means humans and robots will have to work together, opening the door to advanced, interdependent collaboration and safe human-robot co-existence.” 

💡 Why it matters

Digital and innovation plays a key part in our strategy to engage with customers, create efficiencies and support new businesses. We plan to double capital investment in digital to around $1.5 billion gross on average per year out to 2025.


In particular, emissions-detecting drones and crawlers support our Aim 4 to install methane measurement at all our existing major oil and gas processing sites by 2023, ‎publish the data, and then drive a 50% reduction in methane intensity of our operations. 


It’s all part of our purpose to reimagine energy for people and the planet.

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