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).

Coco bites into Texas. Photo courtesy of Coco

California company zips into Texas with robot food delivery in 15 minutes

THE FUTURE IS NOW

A Los Angeles-based business is rolling out its fleet of food delivery robots into a Texas town with plans for expanding into other cities in the Lone Star State.

Coco, which offers a remotely piloted delivery service, has hit the streets of Austin with its food-delivery bots as part of its expansion to targeted markets. Fueled by a recent funding round that garnered the company $56 million, Coco’s expansion plans also include rolling out bots in the Houston, Dallas, and Miami markets soon.

“When evaluating markets for expansion, Austin stood out to the team as a perfect match,” says Zach Rash, co-founder and CEO of Coco, via a release. “Austin’s entrepreneurial spirit, top-notch food scene, and commitment to supporting small businesses makes it an ideal fit for Coco.”

Here’s how it works: Customers place a restaurant order like usual, then a Coco bot — operated by a “trained pilot” — drives to the restaurant to pick it up. The restaurant staff loads the bot as soon as the food is ready, and Coco arrives at the customer’s door within 15 minutes. Each bot is locked until it reaches the customer, so no one can tamper with your pizza or egg rolls.

The company claims that compared with traditional food-delivery methods, its bots decrease the time it takes food to reach the customer by 30 percent, and that the service has an on-time delivery rate of 97 percent. Coco bots work at shorter distances and on mostly pedestrian paths. As the company’s website notes, “A surprisingly large portion of deliveries are done within less than 2 miles. We believe there is no reason to have a 3,000-pound car deliver a burrito over short distances.”

Coco has rolled out with 10 Austin partners — mostly merchants that service the South Lamar Boulevard, South Congress Avenue, South Austin, downtown, North Austin, North Loop, and Domain neighborhoods — and aims to continue onboarding many more in the coming weeks “to accommodate the rapid influx of merchant interest.”

It’s Coco’s trained pilots and commitment to “perfecting the last-mile delivery experience” that helps set it apart from competitors, according to the company and its partners.

The company hasn't released when it plans to roll into other Texas cities, just that it has the intention to do so. Houston's no stranger to self-driving food deliveries. Another California-based company, Nuro, has several pilot programs from groceries and pharmaceuticals to pizza. The University of Houston also launched bots on campus in 2019.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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16 Houston-based companies hailed best places to work by U.S. News

the standouts

More than a dozen Houston-based companies are sharing the spotlight in U.S. News and World Report's collection of the "Best Companies to Work For" in 2024-2025.

The annual report examines publicly-traded companies around the world to determine the best employers based on six metrics including work-life balance and flexibility; quality of pay and benefits; job and company stability; career opportunities and professional development; and more. The companies were not ranked, but included based on reader surveys and publicly available data about each workplace.

New for the 2024-2025 report, U.S. News analyzed549 companies across 29 different lists, including the overall best companies list — which includes the best 300 companies across the U.S., the United Kingdom, Ireland, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Bermuda — 24 industry-specific lists, and four regional lists.

There were 16 total companies based around Houston that made the lists, with the majority being based in the city, while one each were located in Spring and The Woodlands.

Leading the pack in Houston is construction company Comfort Systems USA, which provides HVAC, plumbing, and electrical services. Comfort Systems employs 15,800 people, brings in $5.57 billion in annual revenue, and has a market cap of $11.21 billion. The company earned high ratings for its job stability, "belongingness," and professional development opportunities, according to U.S. News.

Comfort Systems also made appearances on U.S. News' industry-specific "Best in Construction" list, and the "Best Companies in the South" list.

Independent energy company Marathon Oil was another top-rated Houston employer, with nearly 1,700 employees, an annual revenue stream of $6.38 billion, and a $15.4 billion market cap. The company was specifically highlighted with a "Top Quality of Pay" label, but also boasts high ratings for its employees' work-life balance, job stability, and belongingness.

In addition to being included in the overall "Best Companies" list, Marathon Oil earned recognition in the industry-specific "Best in Energy" list and the "Best Companies in the South" list.

A second Houston-based energy company earning a spot among the top employers is Occidental (also known as Oxy). The petroleum corporation, which has been in operation since 1920, has nearly 12,600 employees and brings in $27,43 billion in revenue every year.

According to U.S. News, Occidental offers many financial, health and wellness, and workplace benefits including 401k matching, tuition assistance, an employee assistance program, flexible work arrangements, and much more. The company was also given a "Top Quality of Pay" designation.

Occidental appeared in U.S. News' "Best in Mining and Raw Materials," the overall "Best Companies," and "Best Companies in the South" lists.

Other top companies to work for in Houston include:

  • Insperity, Kingwood – Best in Professional Services; Best Companies (overall); Best Companies in the South
  • Southwestern Energy Company, Spring – Best in Energy; Best Companies (overall); Best Companies in the South
  • PROS – Best in IT, Software and Services; Best Companies (overall); Best Companies in the South
  • Powell Industries – Best in Manufacturing; Best Companies (overall); Best Companies in the South
  • Stewart – Best in Insurance; Best Companies (overall); Best Companies in the South
  • ConocoPhillips – Best in Energy, Best Companies in the South
  • LGI Homes, The Woodlands – Best in Construction; Best Companies in the South
  • Service Corporation International – Best in Consumer Products and Services; Best Companies in the South
  • Skyward Specialty Insurance – Best Companies in the South
  • Camden Property Trust – Best in Real Estate; Best Companies in the South
  • Cheniere – Best in Energy
  • EOG Resources – Best in Energy
  • Murphy Oil Corporation – Best in Energy

"Prospective and current employees understand the significant impact their employer has on their quality of life," said Carly Chase, vice president of careers at U.S. News and World Report, in a release. "Whether a new grad seeking a company to launch their career, an established professional looking for a change or an HR professional researching the strengths of their company and others, Best Companies to Work For provides a central space to see which companies are meeting their employees' needs best.

Top workplaces around Texas
In all, 42 different employers headquartered in the Lone Star State made it onto U.S. News' 2024-2025 "Best Places to Work For" lists. The Houston metro area tied with Dallas-Fort Worth with the highest number of top-rated employers, at 16 each. Only one company from West Texas made it onto the list: Diamondback Energy in Midland.

The top companies to work for in Austin are:

  • Cirrus Logic
  • CrowdStrike
  • Digital Realty
  • Silicon Labs
  • E2open
  • Q2

The top companies to work for in San Antonio are:

  • Frost Bank
  • iHeartMedia
  • Rush Enterprises, Inc., New Braunfels

The best places to work for across Dallas-Fort Worth are:

  • Thryv Holdings, Inc., Dallas
  • Comerica, Dallas
  • Veritex Community Bank, Dallas
  • Charles Schwab, Westlake
  • Southwest Airlines, Dallas
  • CMC, Irving
  • Sabre, Southlake
  • Texas Instrument, Dallas
  • Omnicell, Fort Worth
  • Enhabit, Dallas
  • Builders FirstSource, Irving
  • Invitation Homes, Dallas
  • Celanese, Irving
  • Atmos Energy, Dallas
  • Lennox, Richardson
  • Caterpillar, Irving
The full list of the best companies to work for can be found at usnews.com

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

$1M donation to Rice establishes pioneering neuro-policy center in Houston

brainy support

A big donation to Rice University will soon help researchers better understand the workings of the human brain.

Harry Yan and Weiman Gao have bestowed $1 million on the Baker Institute of Public Policy to establish the interdisciplinary Neuro-Policy Program.

Neuro-policy is a newer field that explores how brain health and function can help to fuel economic growth.

“The Neuro-Policy Program is at the forefront of pioneering data analysis, empirical research and policy application,” says Harris Eyre, the lead for the program, as well as a senior fellow in brain health at the Baker Institute, in a news release. “Investing in evidence-based strategies for prevention, diagnosis and treatment can reduce brain and mental health disparities, optimize cognitive development and performance and foster innovation to build more resilient communities.”

Eyre describes the collective value of the human brain as “brain capital.” That’s because brains that are suffering from any number of neurodegenerative or mental health disorders (including depression, anxiety, brain injury and Alzheimer’s disease) have actually taken a toll on the U.S. economy, Eyre explains.

The Neuro-Policy Program seeks to improve brain performance, and consequently enhance economic growth, national security, and our overall standing as a nation of healthy brains. The program’s primary projects include establishing a task force to advise Texas “brain and mind” legislative efforts as well as a Texas Brain Capital Dashboard, collaborating on Texas Forward (Texas Brain Health Plan) with the UT Dallas Center for BrainHealth, thereby working toward U.S. brain capital policy and investment advances. These projects are expected to yield deliverables as early as 2026.

“The Neuro-Policy Program aims to leverage the university’s proximity to the Texas Medical Center and the institute’s strong connections to state and federal policymakers. This is an important yet underrepresented area of research that Houston is poised to lead,” says David Satterfield, the director of the Baker Institute.

Yan and Gao said in a press release that they were inspired to gift the grant funds to Eyre and his research after attending a March 28 Baker Institute event on brain health that featured U.S. Rep. Morgan Luttrell, a co-chair of the Congressional Neuroscience Caucus.

"We are honored to support Dr. Harris Eyre and the Neuro-Policy program he leads. Dr. Eyre’s work has greatly impressed us, highlighting the critical importance of brain health in our society today,” say Yan and Gao. “We hope our contribution can inspire further support and advocacy in the field, helping individuals lead healthier lives through a comprehensive approach to prevention.”