The oil and gas industry continues to be a hotbed of innovation, with activity 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 characterised 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 534,000 patents filed and granted in the oil & gas industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Internet of Things in Oil & Gas: Tethered Drones.

According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which uses over 256,000 patents to analyse innovation intensity for the oil & gas industry, there are 40+ innovation areas that will shape the future.

Tethered drones is a key innovation area in Internet of Things

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 70+ 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 different applications identified for each relevant patent and broadly splits companies into either ‘niche’ or ‘diversified’ innovators.

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

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 how Internet of Things is disrupting the oil & gas industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Internet of Things in Oil & Gas (2021).

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.