For the supermajors in oil and gas, innovation isn’t a buzzword—it’s enabling the future of energy. Companies are facing evolving market demands, regulatory pressures, and competition from alternative energy sources. For Chevron, this means leveraging the company’s strengths to advance new products and solutions that improve reliability and lower the carbon intensity of their operations around the world. Modernization is a key component in tackling these challenges and driving competitive advantage. Chevron has established itself as a leader of the pack with a groundbreaking investment in mobile robotics.

Chevron has been working with Spot at a cogeneration facility at Chevron Pipeline and Power Upstream Bakersfield, California facility to validate several important use cases. In summer of 2023, the company increased its fleet of Spots with robots headed to refineries in Pascagoula, Mississippi and El Segundo, California. Chevron also signed a strategic agreement with Boston Dynamics, outlining their intention to scale additional robots at even more locations. Chevron now has more Spot robots than any other oil and gas company, a significant step towards the company’s goal to incorporate advanced robotics capabilities across its asset portfolio.

“Mobile robotics have proven value in our operations,” says Joshua Hofstatter, the technology and digital innovation manager at Chevron’s refinery in El Segundo, California. “Spot has the ability to walk a facility and gather key data which can be presented into a fit for purpose dashboard making decisions easier and more effective.”

Chris McCasky, sales manager for oil and gas at Boston Dynamics, says that Chevron’s recent investment demonstrates the company’s commitment to technology and innovation. “Robotics have become table stakes in this industry—to assist with worker safety, enable ever-cleaner operations, and meet consumers’ energy demands, robots are empowering more efficient and effective ways of working,” McCasky says. “By expanding their investment in Spot and entering into this strategic enterprise agreement, Chevron has demonstrated a commitment to aggressively scaling up in an area that is quickly becoming mission-critical for oil and gas companies.”

Spot’s integrated payloads allow us to set up automated routes and collect data day and night, regardless of how busy we are at these sites.

Richard Hurley, autonomous product owner

Exploring Innovation

The company first brought Spot into the Chevron Technical Center in Houston, the center where Chevron’s innovation team evaluates, develops, and delivers emerging technologies and approaches to solve complex business problems at velocity and scale. “We continuously look for the right technologies to explore, invest, and advance,” says Marilee Phan, a robotics engineer at the technical center. “Spot is different…What we’re doing with Boston Dynamics is thinking of the bigger picture—where can we put robots that take our refineries to the next level and support us long term.”

After conducting multiple proof-of-concept projects in Houston, Chevron moved Spot into a production role at its cogeneration facility in Bakersfield, California—deploying robots to perform daily inspections of highly sensitive equipment. The robots walk autonomous routes, taking both visual and thermal images to gather inspection data. In addition to enhancing productivity, Spot helps keep employees safe by traversing the site’s electrical switch yard, where people are not allowed unless they follow detailed safety procedures—typically including powering down and wearing extensive PPE. The arrangement has been so successful that Chevron quickly decided to add robots to additional sites to perform an even wider array of critical tasks.

“One of the early use cases that we’ve identified is visual observations—just having Spot out there as a set of eyes to assess our assets at a more frequent rate than what we can currently do,” says Richard Hurley, an autonomous product owner at Chevron. “Spot’s integrated payloads allow us to set up automated routes and collect data day and night, regardless of how busy we are at these sites.”

Scaling Across the Company

Spot has been considered for use in environmental and safety monitoring, as well as emergency management. Its capabilities are being tested in a variety of settings. Most of the ten new Spots that Chevron purchased in 2023 are headed to the company’s refineries in Pascagoula, Mississippi and El Segundo, California, although two of the robots will go to the Chevron Technical Center to explore future opportunities. “Chevron is the first major oil and gas company to begin to adopt our Spot robots at scale,” McCasky notes. The company plans to continue rolling out more robots in the near future, while also expanding the types of tasks these robots are deployed to accomplish.

Jason Bohr, an enterprise process mining product owner for Chevron, says that using a variety of payloads, Spot can monitor thousands of pieces of equipment at the refineries, ensuring that plant operators have a stream of real-time, accurate data to keep operations humming.

“Knowing how the facility is running, and then being able to make predictions based on that data, is absolutely critical to running the business. We want our people to focus their time and energy on optimizing the facility, working down a maintenance backlog, or even just prepping for our next turnaround. Spot is going to free them up to do those tasks, which will lead us to much greater success in the future.”

An operator records a thermal reading of a motor using the Spot tablet

Spot can use an acoustic imager to identify anomalies and alert operations of potential air leaks, helping Chevron refineries to be more efficient. Spot CAM+IR has the capability to take visual and thermal images of equipment and gauges, which Chevron will process through its own computer vision program to detect any anomalies.

Spot is not only helping Chevron in existing inspection processes, but to advance them. Currently, operators walk the sites and analyze equipment with their own senses. They listen to hear if any of the equipment is making unusual sounds or giving off too much heat. Robotics provide an opportunity streamline inspections like these. Zach Pringnitz, a robotics engineer at the Chevron Technical Center explains: “With Spot, we can take precise measurements on things like acoustics and temperatures, and then we can track that data over time.”

Supporting Chevron’s Culture of Safety

Spot not only supports plant reliability, but also safety initiatives. By using Spot to inspect hazardous areas, Chevron is working to keep employees away from dangerous situations, and also giving the company a chance to discover potential problems much earlier than they otherwise would. “We’re trying to give our employees better data, and also help take them out of harm’s way,” Phan says. “We can start to make decisions to say that maybe we need to start looking at a certain area more often, or we need to slow down operations on a certain piece of equipment. The more that we learn, the better our decisions will be and the faster we can make changes. Spot really makes a big difference.”

Boston Dynamics worked with Chevron and other major oil and gas companies to introduce an industry-specific safety function to Spot. The robot now comes equipped with a sensor that detects the presence of explosive gas. As soon as Spot senses the gas, it will immediately sit down and shut off, mitigating the risk that a spark from the robot could serve as a source of ignition. The new safety feature allows Chevron to use Spot autonomously in hazardous locations and electrically classified areas.

“The gas detector helps get people more comfortable with using Spot, and helps us to prioritize safety,” Phan says.

Keeping the Routine, Routine

Along with day-to-day monitoring and asset inspection, Chevron plans to use Spot to collect long-term historical data. For instance, the company will use lidar scanning to produce digital twins of its sites and create before-and-after scans when refineries are shut down for major equipment changes every few years.

“With Spot conducting lidar scans, we can collect data much faster and more frequently than we can using our traditional methods,” Hurley says. “It standardizes the process, and there’s a lot less error in that data collection.”

With several use cases already validated and Chevron continuing to test more, the company is paving the path toward a future where Spot is an integral part of operations.