Schlumberger and Liquid Robotics Launch Joint Venture

June 21, 2012

Schlumberger, the global oil and gas technology behemoth, and Liquid Robotics launched a joint venture Thursday to deploy the Silicon Valley startup’s ocean-going robots to provide exploration and monitoring services for the offshore oil industry.

The 250-pound, wave-and-solar-powered robots, called Wave Gliders, are about the size of a surfboard and can roam the world’s oceans autonomously for up to a year at a time. (Four Wave Gliders currently are making their way from San Francisco to Australia and Japan.) The bots are packed with cellphone flash storage, a dual-core ARM processor running open Linux software, a battery pack, sensor arrays, a GPS unit and wireless and satellite communications systems that beams data to servers in the cloud. A pair of solar panels powers the equipment while an undersea fin array taps the up-and-down motion of ocean waves to propel the Wave Glider.

“Rather than send out boats and people and a bunch of capital-intensive investment to go acquire data, you can do it in a much more cost-effective fashion and in a safer fashion and in a more environmentally conscious fashion than what’s being done today,” Steven Springsteel, Liquid Robotics chief operating officer and chief financial officer, said in an interview.

“Both parties are bringing a pipeline to the table here,” he added. “Clearly, Schlumberger is the lead big dog in the space and they have a very big pipeline of customers they would like to utilize our technology.”

Said Ashok Belani, Schlumberger’s chief technology officer, in a statement: “We are extremely excited about the new capabilities the unique Wave Glider platform will bring to offshore exploration and production – particularly in the areas of seismic, subsea and environmental monitoring.”

Schlumberger is an investor in Liquid Robotics.

Based in Houston, the joined venture, Liquid Robotics Oil & Gas, is owned 50-50 by the partners and will most likely supply fleets of wave gliders to oil companies and charge subscription fees for access to the data gathered by the robots, according to Springsteel.

The Wave Gliders will collect information on ocean currents – crucial data for deciding where to build an offshore oil rig – as well as provide seismic monitoring and detect seepage from oil drilling.  (Last summer I spent a couple of days on the Gulf of Mexico with a Liquid Robotics crew that was launching and retrieving Wave Gliders performing work for BP.)

Springsteel declined to say how many Wave Gliders Liquid Robotics would provide to the joint venture. The company has deployed more than 100 of the robots around the world on missions for climate scientists, the oil industry and the U.S. military.

“The joint venture will make that number grow significantly,” he says.