May 1, 2014
The Oil Rig That Walks
Some of us have waited since the 1980s and the appearance of Transformers for cars that change into walking, talking robots and engage in life and death struggles between good and evil. The cars never materialized, but a real-life oilrig that walks and talks now exists. What it lacks in moral crusading it makes up for in size, beating the Transformers hands down.
The T500XD is built by Schramm Inc., an American company that some people point out proves the healthy state of American manufacturing. It is maybe not unreasonable to have expected such a machine to come from China or Japan.
The drilling rig for oil and natural gas is at the forefront of smart technology on a huge scale. It can walk to its next drilling location and assemble itself there. Although it only walks at 30 feet per hour (a sprinting drilling rig would probably be too much for the human mind to endure, anyway), it can begin drilling at a new location much more quickly than the re-construction of traditional rigs takes.
Throughout all of its drilling work, walking and self-constructing, it monitors itself for any problems and communicates with the headquarters in Pennsylvania via WiFi or satellite. It can rotate 360 degrees, and as Reuters pointed out, “the T500XD rig’s futuristic control room has touchscreens and joysticks, rather than the valves and dials on conventional rigs, appealing to a generation of oilfield workers raised on video games.”
Such remote operation is certainly a step forward in improving safety, an issue which is of concern to rig workers in all parts of the world, because some of the processes, particularly the moving into position of pipes, are inherently dangerous regardless of what precautions are taken. As this can be done on the T500XD with an automatic arm, the well-being of workers is an added bonus of this creation. Furthermore, it is said that the reduced labor that comes with it means less of the long, grueling shift work associated with oilrig working.
But the moral advantages do have their counterparts. The new rig requires around forty percent fewer workers and so will cost jobs. This applies to all kinds of technology, and will forever be an ethical question related to technological progress. But a further issue related to this story is the kind of task that the rig is designed to do. It will be another contribution to the explosion in fracking, the process of injecting water, sand and chemicals into the ground at high pressure in order to force out natural gas. Opponents say that it damages the environment as well as potentially causing pollution and even minor earthquakes. There is a feeling that drilling companies appear to have the right to maraud across the land unchecked.
Lastly, a fact about Transformers. The concept is originally Japanese, with some Korean contribution, and began as Transformers: Car Robots. Very few episodes covered moral issues such as environmental damage and reduced jobs markets caused by cars who can do more than just drive.
Image Credit: Schramm Inc.