A look inside the human brain leads to developing and enhancing drilling automation

Posted on 07 March 2012

By Joanne Liou, editorial coordinator

Understanding the thought process that drillers go through is shaping the future of human-centered drilling automation. The fundamentals of science and knowing how specific parts of the brain function, complemented by real-time computers, give the driller additional awareness and means to perform, Bertrand du Castel, a fellow at Schlumberger, explained. “Our industry is at exactly the stage (where) we have very experienced, smart, effective people who are going to be the driver of the drilling process for many decades to come,” he said. “What we have to understand is the association of the driller and the computer.”

Bertrand du Castel, a fellow at Schlumberger, explained how understanding the thought process of the driller’s brain can help develop human-centered automation, at a workshop on 5 March aimed at advancing automation in well construction.

Bertrand du Castel, a fellow at Schlumberger, explained how understanding the thought process of the driller’s brain can help develop human-centered automation, at a workshop on 5 March aimed at advancing automation in well construction.

His comments were made at a special drilling automation workshop jointly held by the IADC Advanced Rig Technology Committee and the SPE Drilling Systems Automation Technical Section on 5 March in San Diego, Calif., preceding the IADC/SPE Drilling Conference.
Deciphering the different parts of the brain utilized in a driller’s thought process, Mr du Castel pointed to the eyes as the visual cortex where the process begins, followed by the hypothalamus, which evaluates the situation. The motor cortex translates the thought into action, and the inferior temporal cortex follows the manipulation of objects. The process is then topped with a higher level of thought process in the prefrontal cortex.

The brain works in two stages: instinctive and contextual. Event processing is split between an immediate, instinctive reaction and a slower, contextual reaction, Mr du Castel said. The challenge is to find the connection between how drillers think through the process and how computers can supplement that process. “What we are trying to do is not to substitute the driller,” he stated, “but with computers and today’s technology, can we help the driller in such a way that we are always – in the combination of the driller and the computer – a system of alertness, which is fitting the needs of our industry?”

Focusing on four fundamental signals – block position, hookload, standpipe pressure and torque – Mr du Castel described how computers, given the derivatives and capability to identify patterns, are able to go through the process of a driller’s brain to interpret and react to situations. “A computer can see (slips) just like the brain can,” he said. “Without knowing about drilling but knowing a lot about patterns, computers can identify objects of interest.”

The fully automated processing of drilling surface data, combined with neuroscience principles, set the scene for automatic detection of adverse events based on a situation’s context, Mr du Castel explained. “Now we can specifically build layer upon layer of automation and hope that our work will be rewarded.”

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