new fleet

Robots roll into Houston operations of global energy industry giant

Among other things, the robotic capabilities will enable constant monitoring of oil and gas assets, and earlier detection of methane emissions. Photo courtesy of Wood

Houston employees of Wood, a Scottish giant in engineering and management services, are helping drive the robot revolution in the oil and gas industry.

Wood recently received nearly $3 million in funding from Canada’s province of Newfoundland and Labrador to support development of robots that will carry out autonomous inspection and maintenance of onshore and offshore oil and gas infrastructure in that region.

“As we prepare for the transition to renewable energy, we do it knowing that oil and gas will be needed for the foreseeable future. Our government will continue to work to support the women and men who work in the oil and gas industry as we collaborate with industry to support new innovative ideas to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Andrew Furey, premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, says in a news release.

Among other things, the robotic capabilities will enable constant monitoring of oil and gas assets, and earlier detection of methane emissions. Wood says that if the Canadian project succeeds, it could lead to the rollout of more robots.

Some of Wood’s robots will be roaming the show floor at this year’s Offshore Technology Conference (OTC), set for May 2-5 at NRG Park. An OTC session on May 3 will shine a light on the emerging sector of offshore robotic technologies. Rami Jabari of Houston-based ExxonMobil and Ross Doak of Shell, which has a major presence in Houston, are co-chairs of the session. Both ExxonMobil and Shell have embraced robotics in recent years.

The Houston office of Wood — which employs nearly 11,000 full-time workers locally and whose 2020 global revenue totaled $7.5 billion — has been toiling away on the robotic technology for several years. The technology already has undergone a successful pilot in Wyoming, where robots and drones have captured data to create 3D models of oil and gas assets.

“In a nutshell, this technology is making routine inspections and maintenance of assets safer and more efficient, leading to reduced carbon emissions and lower-cost sustainable operations,” according to Wood.

A key focus of the robotic technology is helping more than 100 countries that have pledged to slash methane emissions by 30 percent before 2030 compared with 2020 levels. According to the United Nations, decreasing methane emissions is one of the most cost-effective ways to achieve global goals tied to climate change.

Wood, whose U.S. locations are in Houston and Alpharetta, Georgia, isn’t the only company with strong local ties that’s innovating in robotics for the oil and gas sector.

For instance, Webster-based Nauticus Robotics specializes in offshore robotics for the oil and gas sector and other industries. Nauticus, previously branded as Houston Mechatronics, is preparing to merge with CleanTech Acquisition, a publicly traded SPAC, or special acquisition company.

The pending merger values Nauticus at $560 million. The company envisions generating revenue of more than $90 million in 2023, up from an estimated $8.2 million this year.

The first product from Nauticus, founded by former NASA engineers, is called Aquanaut.

“Aquanaut is an unmanned underwater vehicle that can transform itself from a nimble submarine designed for long-distance cruising into a half-humanoid robot capable of carrying out complex manipulation tasks. It can inspect subsea oil and gas infrastructure, operate valves, and use tools,” according to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

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Building Houston

 
 

After working with thousands of interns, Allie Danziger of Ampersand Professionals says she's now got a product to upskill and train new hires for employers. Photo courtesy of Ampersand

After seeing success with her internship training and matchmaking platform, Allie Danziger, founder and CEO of Ampersand Professionals, has expanded the concept to include a new hire training service that allows employers to better optimize the onboarding process and have a well-trained new staff member from day one.

In just over a year, Ampersand has worked with over 7,000 professionals through its original concept of upskilling and matching young professionals to internship programs. A few months ago, Danziger and her team expanded to include career development training for students first entering the workforce with the City of Houston's Hire Houston Youth program. Danziger says it was developing out the platform for this program that proved there was a need for this type of training.

"While we have focused on matching professionals with businesses for paid internships, we recognized a further gap with employers that have their own recruiting/talent acquisition teams, or just their own preferred way of bringing on entry-level talent, and didn’t have a need for our matching platform," Danziger tells InnovationMap. "But, they recognized the benefit of our proven training platform that pre-vets and de-risks their hires, and still wanted access to the training for their own hires."

The new program has evolved from training interns to new hires, so parts of the program that focuses on interviewing or applying for a job have been removed. Instead, the 8.5 hours of training focuses on networking, best practices for working with a manager and team, performance reviews, common software training, and more.

Danziger says usually new hires need the most experienced mentor or manager, but they don't usually get that support — especially when it comes to businesses that don't have their own built-out mentorship or training program.

"Ampersand’s new training product fills that gap — it gives employers of any size any easy solution to provide basic job readiness training to employees, access to our team of dedicated coaches, and a detailed report at the end of their training summarizing how their new hire did in the training and any trends recognized and tips for managing this employee based on what the platform uncovered," she says. "Businesses can also sign up for additional coaching sessions and customize training materials, as an add-on if interested."

The program costs the employer $100 per new employee, and checkout online takes less than a minute. Through both this program and the original internship program, Ampersand is constantly evolving its training content.

"These professionals are going through the same training experience that we have proven out over the last year, and we are constantly adding to based on data we see in the user experience," Danziger says.

Danziger recently joined the Houston Innovators Podcast discuss some of the benchmarks she's met with Ampersand, as well as the importance of investing in Gen Z hires. Listen to that episode below.


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