Norwegian energy firm Equinor has introduced electric drones at its oil rig sites in the North Sea to solve logistical challenges and improve the safety and sustainability of deliveries between the sites.
The two-month trial was supported by Robotics & Automation Awards finalist Skyports, with the aircraft being piloted from shore in the Equinor ROC in Bergen. This deployment marks the drone company’s longest flights to date.
A highly-automated cargo drone, from Skyports partner Swoop Aero, reportedly flew distances of up to 114km and made deliveries between Equinor’s processing centre site in Mongstad on the west coast of Norway and three installations in the Gullfaks oil field in the North Sea, as well as between rigs.
Some of the key benefits of the drone service, according to the company, are increases in the efficiency and sustainability of operations, as well as safety and speed.
For the trial, fully electric drones were used, with a 5kg payload capacity and a range of up to 175km, according to Skyports.
A key focus of the trial was to explore how the service can be scaled with minimal human intervention.
Skyports Drone Services’ remote pilots were brought in to oversee flights of the fixed-wing drones during the operations, with the drones taking off automatically.
What’s more, Equinor staff located on the installations have been trained by Skyports Drone Services to load and unload cargo, switch and charge batteries, and safely interact with the drones.
Alex Brown, director of Skyports Drone Services, said: “This project with Equinor proves that drone delivery can offer a safer, cost-effective, more sustainable alternative to conventional transport methods in offshore environments.
“The offshore energy sector is perfectly placed to benefit from drone deliveries due to the inherent time sensitive nature of working offshore, as well as the extreme remoteness and ruggedness of operations.”
The drone services provider worked with Avinor and the Civil Aviation Authority of Norway to secure flight permissions for the trials.