The oil and gas industry continues to be a hotbed of innovation, with activity driven by the need for efficient production, safety, cost control and improving the long-term sustainability of operations. Digital technologies are playing a transformative role in meeting these objectives. This is characterised by the growing importance of technologies such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing, internet of things, and robotics, within the industry. In the last three years alone, there have been over 534,000 patents filed and granted in the oil & gas industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Robotics in Oil & Gas: Inspection robots.

However, not all innovations are equal and nor do they follow a constant upward trend. Instead, their evolution takes the form of an S-shaped curve that reflects their typical lifecycle from early emergence to accelerating adoption, before finally stabilising and reaching maturity.

Identifying where a particular innovation is on this journey, especially those that are in the emerging and accelerating stages, is essential for understanding their current level of adoption and the likely future trajectory and impact they will have. 

150+ innovations will shape the oil & gas industry

According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which plots the S-curve for the oil & gas industry using innovation intensity models built on over 256,000 patents, there are 40+ innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry.

Within the emerging innovation stage, robotic drilling machines is a disruptive technology that is in the early stages of application and should be tracked closely. Automated drilling tools, predictive maintenance systems, and force feedback robots are some of the accelerating innovation areas, where adoption has been steadily increasing. Among maturing innovation areas is jig conveyors, which is now well established in the industry.

Innovation S-curve for robotics in the oil & gas industry

Inspection robots is a key innovation area in robotics

Remote inspection robots enable maintenance personnel to conduct asset inspections entirely from remote locations. They can deploy these robotic systems in different types of locations to perform numerous checks. These bots can operate with varying degrees of autonomy.

Inspection robots are primarily used in industrial settings where they assist the workforce in inspecting equipment to find faults or recover from outages. They can deliver a level of accuracy that humans cannot always provide and also improve worker safety, as inspection sometimes requires access to hazardous locations.

GlobalData’s analysis also uncovers the companies at the forefront of each innovation area and assesses the potential reach and impact of their patenting activity across different applications and geographies. According to GlobalData, there are 20+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established oil & gas companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of inspection robots.

Key players in inspection robots – a disruptive innovation in the oil & gas industry

‘Application diversity’ measures the number of different applications identified for each relevant patent and broadly splits companies into either ‘niche’ or ‘diversified’ innovators.

‘Geographic reach’ refers to the number of different countries each relevant patent is registered in and reflects the breadth of geographic application intended, ranging from ‘global’ to ‘local’.

Patent volumes related to inspection robots

Company Total patents (2010 - 2021) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
Hyundai Motor Group 75 Unlock company profile
General Electric 53 Unlock company profile
State Grid Corporation of China 20 Unlock company profile
AGCO 17 Unlock company profile
Kibbutz Yizreel Holdings 2004 ACS 16 Unlock company profile
Beijing Geekplus Technology 15 Unlock company profile
Halliburton 15 Unlock company profile
Caterpillar 14 Unlock company profile
Siemens 13 Unlock company profile
Toro Company 13 Unlock company profile
National Grid 11 Unlock company profile
Yanmar Holdings 11 Unlock company profile
ExRobotics 10 Unlock company profile
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries 9 Unlock company profile
Saudi Arabian Oil 9 Unlock company profile
Konecranes 9 Unlock company profile
Electricite de France 9 Unlock company profile
MTD Products 8 Unlock company profile
China Southern Power Grid 8 Unlock company profile
Formosa Plastics Group 7 Unlock company profile
Fanuc 7 Unlock company profile
Komatsu 6 Unlock company profile
ABB 6 Unlock company profile
CNH Industrial 5 Unlock company profile
Nidec 5 Unlock company profile
Iseki & Co 5 Unlock company profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Leaders in inspection robots for oil and gas include Fanuc, Saudi Aramco, and Siemens. Fanuc is one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of industrial robots. It uses sensors, analytics, and cloud computing to provide a continuous service to its customers by anticipating equipment and process problems and organizing the automatic replacement of parts. 

Saudi Aramco’s in-house R&D team has developed several robots for inspection and maintenance of its oil and gas assets. These robots are designed to provide inspection, surveillance, mapping, and emergency response services. The company has also developed the Shallow Water Inspection and Monitoring Robot (SWIM-R) for pipeline inspections.

Siemens offers inspection robots with ultrasonic sensing capabilities. These features offer safe and accurate data collection in industries with high-risk exposure, such as oil and gas.

To further understand how robotics is disrupting the oil & gas industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Robotics in Oil & Gas (2021).


GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.

GlobalData’s Patent Analytics tracks patent filings and grants from official offices around the world. Textual analysis and official patent classifications are used to group patents into key thematic areas and link them to specific companies across the world’s largest industries.