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Robot Inspectors for Natural Gas Infrastructure

Oil and gas companies are increasingly turning to robots to inspect the structural integrity of pipelines, tanks, and compressor stations in the United States. The companies use the robots to travel along the outer surfaces of their assets to check for thinning materials, structural damage, and leaks. A single robot can quickly and efficiently record thousands of measurements for each asset and report its findings to operators sitting behind a laptop.

At the forefront of this burgeoning effort is the Pittsburgh-based firm, Gecko Robotics. Founded in 2013 by Grove City graduate, Jake Loosararian, Gecko Robotics specializes in the design and deployment of wall-climbing robots. While Loosararian’s robots have proven highly effective in the oil and natural gas industry, that was not their initial intended purpose. Rather, Loosararian designed the robots to inspect power plants and address power failures that plagued a local operator.

Today, the specialized robots are now used in power plants, paper mills, and oil and natural gas facilities. In the process, Loosararian grew his company from 10 employees in 2018 to more than 110 employees today. The firm has locations in Austin, Houston, and Pittsburgh in the United States as well as offices in Santiago, Chile and Seville, Spain.

The application of the robots to the oil and natural gas industry is indicative of a growing movement involving the use of robots and AI for safety and compliance purposes. Given the difficulty in accessing some oil and gas infrastructure (e.g. pipelines situated on hillsides) as well as the time-intensive nature of visually inspecting assets, new technologies like robots and drones have been deployed to make inspections easier and faster.

Workers in the oil and natural gas industry should expect to see more of these technologies pop up over time. Further deployment of robots, drones, and other machines will continue to improve current methods and technologies in an effort to address safety and reliability concerns.

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