Drillbotics® is a competition where teams of university students design and build a miniature 500-pound drilling rig that uses sensors and control algorithms to autonomously drill a rock sample provided by the Society of Petroleum Engineer’s Drilling Systems Automation Technical Section.
The OU team, consisting of five undergraduate and graduate students from the Mewbourne School of Petroleum and Geological Engineering at the Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy, were among 11 teams from around the world whose placement in regional contests qualified them for the international competition.
“I am incredibly proud of our students. This award is proof of their hard work and determination. It also speaks to the one-of-a-kind educational experience students at the Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy receive. Students here have the opportunity to learn from faculty who are titans in their fields. They have multiple opportunities for experiential learning, and they can step out of our industry-grade teaching labs and be at a rig site in a matter of minutes,” said Dean J. Mike Stice.
In September of every year, teams receive the coming year’s competition parameters. This year they were tasked with performing directional drilling, a goal filled with both challenges and real-world applications.
“All of the oil that was easy to get out of the ground has been found and recovered,” said Emmanuel Akita, graduate student and team lead.
In today’s energy industry, petroleum engineers are tasked with drilling wells and recovering oil from hard-to-reach places. Directional drilling allows them to steer a subsurface drill in multiple directions. This method helps contain the high cost of oil recovery.
Just as with actual rigs, the OU Drillbotics® rig is outfitted with GPS technology, which allows them to steer the drill’s direction from the surface. Students mastered a complicated array of electronics to ensure that controls, sensors and rig mechanics were all properly communicating with each other. When problems arose that were not typical textbook questions, team members had to find a solution. With the theoretical understanding gained in the classroom as a foundation, they branched out – digging through textbooks, talking to professors and consulting experts.
“We run the mathematics and talk theory in class every day, but that can only get you so far. Students don’t feel what it is like to drill a well inside the classroom,” said faculty sponsor and Mewbourne School professor Ramadan Ahmed. “But here, they do.”
This is the fifth competition since Drillbotics’ founding and OU’s second international win. An OU team also took home first place in 2015. Ahmed said that since the win, applications are already coming in from petroleum engineering students hoping for a spot on next year’s team.
“Personally, this is the best thing I’ve done in college. Period,” said Akita. “For the course of a year, our small team worked together to find solutions and meet our goal.”
The Mewbourne School of Petroleum and Geological Engineering is no stranger to accolades, consistently ranking as one of the top petroleum engineering programs nationwide. Students at the undergraduate and graduate level have unparalleled access to lab technology, including the National Oilwell Varco Drilling Simulator, one of the only drilling simulators housed at a university in the world.
This year, the Mewbourne School is celebrating its centennial anniversary. For the past 100 years, OU has been on the forefront of petroleum engineering education. The legacy continues with students like the 2018-2019 Drillbotics® Team.
Emmanuel Akita, Team Lead, petroleum engineering graduate student from Ghana, West Africa
Forrest Dyer, petroleum engineering senior from central Calif.
Payton Duggan, petroleum engineering junior from Abilene, Texas
Savanna Drummond, petroleum engineering spring 2019 graduate from Tulsa, Okla.
Monica Elkins, petroleum engineering senior from Edmond, Okla.