Oil, power and energy producer Total, gave an exclusive first look at a new drone they are developing with capabilities to assist in rig safety, environmental protection and search & rescue.
Under the hood, the device is in fact a modified DJI Matrice 100, rechristened as HELPER - Human Environment and Life Protection Emergency Response.
The modified Matrice 100 is the result of research and development done by one of Total's emergency physicians in Angola, Fabien Farge. Using the Matrice 100's modular design, Farge was able to outfit HELPER differently for each mission.
When Farge deploys the appropriately named HELPER, he swaps his regular DJI Zenmuse X3 in favor of a Zenmuse XT thermal camera, this is so that the modified drone can locate people lost at sea, or even assess the scale of oil leaks and spills. Farge has also equipped HELPER to drop self-inflating buoys during rescue missions, each of which carries a tracking device to monitor oil slicks in real time. The Matrice also has an onboard radio device so it can better communicate with fishing crews and drifting boats near oil rigs.
Speaking to The Engineer online — a weekly UK journal about engineers in the manufacturing industry — Farge spoke about the possibilities of different roles his tweaked Matrice 100 could play - "the drone carries all the equipment it needs for a specific mission, so the equipment changes depending on the mission, but the camera is useful for all missions."
By taking advantage of the Matrice 100's modular design, Farge was able to develop HELPER further through its on-board SDK. In practice, this frees the pilot up so that they are better able to focus on communicating with the rest of the rescue team, allowing the drone to complete tasks autonomously.
To assist with the development of the Matrice 100's SDK integration with various apparatus, Farge sought out drone customization company, Gérald Dumartin, whose own existing UAV platform HELPER is actually based on.
“The first tests went great, but we realized we needed a much more ‘professional’ drone, and that did not exist on the market,” said Farge when speaking with The Engineer, adding “they [Dumartin] worked on the algorithms necessary for the drone to fly in the most autonomous way, "
Farge reports that his team are currently testing out HELPER's abilities in assisting search and rescue missions. This testing is currently taking place in Biscarrosse, a seaside commune in southwestern France near Bordeaux, where local lifeguards are flying it through its paces.
The next round of testing will see Farge and his team deploy the modified Matrice 100 to an oil rig site in Angola, where the entirety of its skills and ‘mission capabilities’ will be tested thoroughly.
“It will be tested on a Total offshore site for difference applications,” Farge said excitably, referring to the tests HELPER will undergo in the near future.
“For example, we could test environmental protection: in the event of a leak, the drone’s thermal camera can assess the situation and determine its scale.”
As well as being a useful aid for the oil and gas industries, Farge said that French firefighters have also shown interest in HELPER, potentially using it to monitor and or nullify large fires.
“This drone can find many other uses to access faster, for a cheaper cost, dangerous areas or where there are problems, and bring in real time information to operating teams,” Farge concluded.
“It’s a real progress in efficiency, in cost reduction, and in safety and protection.”
Learn more about the Matrice 100