Some of the largest markets for robotics aren?t always the most obvious. Last November, for example, we ran a short news item about a marketing study detailing the cost of decommissioning oil rigs in the North Sea. The figure: a whopping $74 billion, according to the industry research group, Douglas Westwood. Short working seasons and the area?s notoriously rough weather would seemingly make this an ideal job for robots able to perform inspections and actual decommissioning work.
Remember, however, that the North Sea is just one of myriad areas around the globe where aging rigs need to be safely deactivated in order to prevent spills and other environmental hazards. So the total world market for decommissioning oil rigs ? exact figures are hard to come by ? is no doubt far larger. According to Douglas Westwood, 100 small platforms are decommissioned in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico each year.
Moreover, oil platforms represent just one small portion of the total decommissioning market. Plenty of nuclear reactors will reach the end of their useful lives in the years ahead. The dangers of radiation leakage – not to mention regulations – demand they be shut down. And as with the North Sea, those dangers also make robots best suited to the task. A book published last month, Nuclear Decommissioning: Planning, Execution and International Experience, explains the process in some detail.
And while robotic devices of one form or another have performed inspections, repairs, and other tasks at nuclear facilities for years, the Fukushima disaster vividly illustrates that it?s time to give those devices a serious upgrade. A December New York Times article, quoted Japanese government officials who claimed the Fukushima clean-up could take four decades.
The lesson here is that there exist plenty of robotics companies that have bet heavily on defense-related products or other familiar niches within the industry, only to see the opportunities fade – and often for reasons that defied prediction. Meanwhile, the dangers of aging oil rigs and nuclear reactors are here to stay, and robots will always be the best means of mitigating them.Read More