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Petrobot is now able to efficiently do the dirty work humans just don’t want to do.

Petrobot is a “robot snake arm” or “crawler” that will spend its days in huge vats of oil. Shell’s Petrobot project, also partially funded by the European Union, looks to “develop robots which can replace humans in inspections of pressure vessels and storage tanks widely used in the oil, gas and petrochemical industry.”

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Right now, people have to inspect those oil tanks, and it is very hazardous work with all the mess, the chemical fumes, and the hours spent in the giant toxic container.

The oil companies would rather see Petrobot do the job because inspecting an oil container by hand is expensive and time-consuming, and robots could do it faster and cheaper.

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When humans do the job it costs the oil company money because “to ensure inspectors’ safety, oil, gas and petrochemical plants have to shut down during inspection operations.” Shutting down those operations, costs companies like Shell quite a bit. On top of that “vessels have to be decoupled from live sections of the plant; then vessels are extensively cleaned to remove all products that can emit flammable or toxic gases; scaffolding is then erected in larger vessels, so that inspectors can access all necessary areas.”

That is a considerable amount of time and labor. Bring in Petrobot instead, and you don’t even have to empty out the tank. Petrobot can dive in and do its assigned chores.

“When a pressure vessel is taken out of service, a robot (in the shape of a snake arm or a crawler) will enter it via a manhole or a nozzle; the robot will then scan along the vessel wall for damages,” Shell said. “A robot will enter the storage tank while the product (petrol or intermediate products) stays in place; the robot will then scan over the tank bottom for damages.”

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