The oil and gas industry continues to be a hotbed of patent innovation. Activity is driven by the need for more efficient production, enhanced safety and long-term sustainability. Digital technologies are playing a transformative role in meeting these objectives and this is characterized by the growing importance of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, internet of things, and robotics. In the last three years alone, there have been over 523,000 patents filed and granted in the oil & gas industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Robotics in oil & gas: tethered drones. Buy the report here.

According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which uses over 196,000 patents to analyze innovation intensity for the oil & gas industry, there are 60+ innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.

Tethered drones is a key innovation area in robotics

Tethered drones essentially include a drone attached to a source of power and communication, through a physical link, such as a cable, which primarily eliminates the need for the drone to carry a heavy battery onboard its instrument panel. It also significantly reduces the cost of drone deployment. Tethering is usually the standard practice for remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) deployed in subsea conditions, as well as for drones deployed in downhole wellbore operations.

GlobalData’s analysis also uncovers the companies at the forefront of each innovation area and assesses the potential reach and impact of their patenting activity across different applications and geographies. According to GlobalData, there are 30+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established oil & gas companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of tethered drones.

Key players in tethered drones – a disruptive innovation in the oil and gas industry

‘Application diversity’ measures the number of applications identified for each patent. It broadly splits companies into either ‘niche’ or ‘diversified’ innovators.

‘Geographic reach’ refers to the number of countries each patent is registered in. It reflects the breadth of geographic application intended, ranging from ‘global’ to ‘local’.

Patent volumes related to tethered drones

Company Total patents (2010 - 2021) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
Halliburton 36 Unlock company profile
Saudi Arabian Oil 26 Unlock company profile
Exxon Mobil 17 Unlock company profile
Yara International 14 Unlock company profile
Doosan 12 Unlock company profile
BASF 12 Unlock company profile
China Petrochemical 11 Unlock company profile
Tokyo Gas 9 Unlock company profile
NOF 7 Unlock company profile
Nileworks 6 Unlock company profile
Oceaneering International 6 Unlock company profile
NOK 5 Unlock company profile
The Hong Kong and China Gas 4 Unlock company profile
X Development 4 Unlock company profile
Corteva 3 Unlock company profile
State Grid Corporation of China 3 Unlock company profile
Zhengzhou Xuanyi Robot 2 Unlock company profile
Korea Development Bank 2 Unlock company profile
Makani Technologies 2 Unlock company profile
Sumitomo Chemical 2 Unlock company profile
Sanyo Chemical Industries 2 Unlock company profile
Daicel 2 Unlock company profile
Sekisui Chemical 2 Unlock company profile
Shenzhen Lingdu Intelligent Control Technology 1 Unlock company profile
Guangdong Rongqe Intelligent Technology 1 Unlock company profile
DIC 1 Unlock company profile
Guangzhou Development Group 1 Unlock company profile
Petroleo Brasileiro 1 Unlock company profile
Deutsche Telekom 1 Unlock company profile
Toray Industries 1 Unlock company profile
Alphabet 1 Unlock company profile
ACSL 1 Unlock company profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Leaders in patent filings on tethered drones include Honeywell, General Electric, and Saudi Aramco. Tethered drones are being employed in inspection, monitoring and surveillance tasks in the oil and gas industry.

While being a prominent player in navigation systems for heavy drones, Honeywell has also focused on development of navigation systems for smaller and lighter quadcopters, which may be tethered to a battery source. Tethered drones are suited for longer duration inspection flights within a limited area, such as that for an offshore platform.

General Electric’s Hydro Solutions division offers ROV solutions for inspecting underwater equipment. Such tethered implementation of drones is expected to eliminate operational downtimes during inspections.

Saudi Aramco, a prominent oil and gas company, has focused on internal technology development in an array of fields, including drones. The company has filed for 44 patents in the area of tethered drones. Several of these patents focus on improving operational safety during inspections.

To further understand the key themes and technologies disrupting the oil & gas industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Robotics in Oil and Gas.

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GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.

GlobalData’s Patent Analytics tracks patent filings and grants from official offices around the world. Textual analysis and official patent classifications are used to group patents into key thematic areas and link them to specific companies across the world’s largest industries.