Jennifer Pallanich, senior technology editor, Hart Energy: Welcome to Hart Energy's Tech Trends. I'm your host, Jennifer Pallanich, and today we're talking about automated drilling technology. One of these has already been deployed while the other recently won a Drillbotics competition and is still under development.

The oil and gas industry is seeking out ways to automate drilling operations for a host of reasons, including improved efficiency, consistency, reliability and safety.

During the IADC/SPE International Drilling Conference and Exhibition in early March in Galveston, Nabors and Independence Contract Drilling debuted the initial results of early automation deployments on ICD rigs operating in west and east Texas. Nabors’ SmartDrill Automated Drilling Sequencer is designed to optimize the connection process by controlling the weight-to-slip and slip-to-weight portion of the connection.

Scott Keller, a senior vice president at ICD, said the company was interested in a technology that could reduce connection times on its rigs to better serve its clients.

Brandon Rosler, the operations manager for performance tools at Nabors, said SmartDrill enables automated workflows and recipes that are fully customizable.

He said, “We're not relying on manual inputs from the driller, so this provides operators with the implementation of best practices, and we can make sure that we execute on this every single time.”

Before deploying SmartDrill on ICD rigs, their connection times averaged more than six minutes per connection. But on the final well in initial testing, the connection time was just over four minutes.

Rosler said operations feedback makes it possible to quickly adjust the recipe as needed to create success, not just for one well, but on multiple wells and rigs. Nabors said its SmartDrill automation technology can be used on any AC rig.

Another bit of tech on display at the drilling conference was developed by students at Clausthal University of Technology (TU Clausthal) in Germany. They won last year's Drillbotics competition to design and build a miniature drilling rig that could autonomously drill a directional well through a homogenous rock sample. Their mechanically-actuated push-the-bit rotary steerable system already has a lot of automation and networking capability, and further development is planned to enable better downhole measurements and to implement AI functionality, according to the team's lead.

Charalampos Soilemezidis, team lead, TU Clausthal: So what's next is we have to further develop the system. We are working on a lot of different things, especially in regards to downhole measurements.

JP: He said teammate Kanaan Al Maasarani revamped the initial bottomhole assembly (BHA) design into something smaller.

Kanaan Al Maasarani, team mechanic and steering tool specialist, TU Clausthal: So this is the new updated BHA. Has two major updates. We made it a lot smaller. It's almost half the length of the old one, so it's easier for the BHA to steer around. And we have changed our steering system, and we transitioned to a mechanically-actuated system because we had some problems with this hydraulic system with old one. It wasn't tight, we had a lot of leads. So now we have a mechanically-actuated system, and this is a 3D printed model of the BHA, and I will show you how this functions. We have a small wedge under the wing, and this is in contact with this nose of the wing. So this is a steel cable. When we pull on that cable, we can actuate and deploy our path.

JP: So what's next for the tech? According to the team lead, they're working to optimize the system and they're happy to have drilled their first directional well. And that wraps up this episode of Tech Trends, where we drill into the tech that fuels the oil patch. Until next time, this is Jennifer Pallanich, signing off.