Modelled on a surf board and powered entirely by solar panels and wave movement, Liquid Robotics’ Wave Glider was spawned from a makeshift device created to record the sounds of whales.

Funny then, that, despite a slow start, this seemingly simple technology, which conducts complex and precise surveys and data gathering, is taking the upstream oil and gas industry by storm, with companies like Chevron, Apache and Shell all getting behind it.

Liquid Robotics Oil & Gas celebrated its second birthday on the 1 July, Vice President of operations and technology, Sudhir Pai, details the company’s journey to this point and beyond.

Heidi Vella-Starr: How has LROG grown since its inception just over two year’s ago?

Sudhir Pai: For me one of the biggest changes has been market acceptance for this kind of technology.

One of the key performance indicators we track is days at sea. In 2012, we had one project with one client with 60 days at sea. In 2013 we had 10 projects with six clients and 743 days at sea. In the first 9 months of 2014, already we have done nine projects with two further new clients, with 764 days at sea. Overall, LROG has 1567 days at sea.

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We have done more days at sea in the first 9 months of 2014 than in all of 2013 and everything before. To date we have done 20 projects for nine different clients, which are directly or indirectly via the Schlumberger organisation.

HV: How did you go about selling the Wave Glider to industry as an alternative to deploying manned teams?

SP: Most major organisations have a technology arm. Depending on which company it is, it is either called an upstream technology group (UTG) or EPTG – exploration and production technology group.

They’re essentially a technology arm that is mandated to screen technology to make sure it meets all of the right compliance and, most importantly, make sure it works for the oil and gas industry. The industry always talks about making sure you are right the first time, every time.

Video feature: Liquid Robotics – changing subsea data capture

The world’s first wave powered autonomous ocean robot relentlessly gathers and transmits data.

For our first project, we went through Chevron’s London desk, who then promoted the technology to the business in Australia, and then we introduced it there. Put it this way, we went through a very clear documented process that exists in the oil and gas industry and we followed it meticulously to make sure that it was something that had a win-win situation, as well as a very good partnership and collaboration with our client to achieve common goals.

HV: Why did Liquid Robotics decide to partner with Schlumberger to launch LROG?

SP: Liquid Robotics originally had three main arms which were non-oil and gas. Very quickly it was understood to exist in the oil and gas sector it was important to understand very intimately the oil and gas business. With that understanding, who better to partner with than the worlds largest and best known oil fields supplier?

Schlumberger has some strict policies and procedures for standards and quality, so, let’s put it this way, there were certain criteria set and Schlumberger was the company that ticked all of the boxes. A lot of criteria [from our point of view] were set, such as understanding the oil and gas business, global footprint, compliance on policy and the right DNA to start up this business.

It was also a natural culmination of an early investment Schlumberger had made through its group to Liquid Robotics looking at opportunities for the two companies to start working together. So that early venture landed into a natural culmination of the joint venture.

Out of the 20 projects done to date, half of them have, one way or another, been through the Schlumberger organisation. Either a particular arm of Schlumberger, particularly the seismic arm of Schlumberger, which is WesternGeco, is our client or we work through clients of WesternGeco.

HV: Is one Waveglider equivalent to whole team?

SP: Correct. Most of the time where the application is useful, it is replacing existing technologies which are traditionally deployed on vessels. They cost more and have to have humans on board. In certain environments [these technologies] can not be out in storms for safety reasons.

Here we are out in the ocean and we can be out there even in hurricanes or thunderstorms. We can keep the Wave Glider in what is called a holding station if it is really bad. Having said that, our Wave Gliders love hurricanes and thunderstorms, they have been through about ten such meteorological and oceanographic events to date. We have been through typhoon Rammasun in Asia, Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Isaac. The Wave Glider is often the last vehicle standing while other vessels have moved to safer parts because they have people on board. The key advantage we have is that there are no humans on board.

“We have done more days at sea in the first 9 months of 2014 than in all of 2013 and everything before.”

HV: What has proved the most popular use for the Wave Glider in regards to oil and gas?

SP: When the joint venture was formed we looked at seven clear business lines. They were: Meteorology and oceanographic (METOC); Seep – related to finding out if there is hydrocarbon presence below the surface of the water; Gateway – related to acoustically reading sub-sea heads; Seismic, complimenting the existing towed streamer technology; MAG, magnetic management in an offshore environment; Acoustic monitoring and a business line called ‘Others’, wherein we can put in any nice idea that might come up.

Here, with more than two years later, these are still the seven business lines which are accessed within LROG.

Out of these seven business lines, three are fully commercial today; these are METOC, Seep and Gateway. The most popular is METOC. Out of the 20 projects which have been done, more than half of them are METOC. Three are Gateway and two are Seep.

HV: Due to positive industry acceptance of autonomous submersible vehicles, is the market becoming more crowded?

SP: That’s right, and for the right reasons. Market acceptance certainly tells you quite a few more autonomous underwater vehicles have come out, but I think none of them are to the same level of maturity [as the Wave Glider] or have the same level of market acceptance [as the Wave Glider]. This is my opinion. The wave glider is one of a kind.

It works off wave energy propulsion and it likes to stay in the water for long periods of time. For example, look at the PacX mission we did, where the Wave Glider was in the water for more than 12 months, going on a path no human has been on, a Pacific journey of 9,200 miles.

HV: Do you have plans to update the Wave Glider?

A new project is giving scientists access to the offshore industry’s subsea ROVs .

SP: Absolutely. The current version is called SV2 – submersible vehicle times two because it has two solar panels on it. We have 41 of those in our fleet today.

The next version coming out is called SV3, which is about 40% longer, much more powerful in terms of power and much stronger in terms of current management. We have 25 of these Wave Gliders in our stock. The SV3 also has improved software, collision avoidance and the ability to mix and match multiple type sensors on the same platform.

So, as I mentioned, the METOC, Seep and Gateway came out on the SV2 technology. METOC has been transferred over to have the SV3 technology available, the rest of the business lines will also be looked at in order to be moved to the SV3 technology. So, it’s an exciting new platform that is coming out bigger and stronger and combinable with multiple services on the one platform.

We will take possession of an additional 25 SV3s in Q4.

HV: What are LROG’s priorities going forward?

SP: There are a few things that we are extremely excited about: one is introducing seismic. So, complimenting the old streamer technology that exists and applying what is called Wave Glider Seismic in areas where the towed streamer may not be able to do long offsets, such as close to obstructions or shallow waters where the streamer cannot go.

We will also continue to expand globally, particularly in the frontier areas. The Arctic is of extreme interest for us and one place we hope to continue our focus.

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