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A summer of experiments and experiences

“Our first thought was that this seemed like a fun and motivating challenge. But we were also a little surprised that we got a task like this for our internship. Especially in a company like Equinor. Ole M. Kjørholt laughs.

As interns, Ole M. and Simen Grønli joined the Emerging IT Sandbox - a playground to test out ideas and technology quickly to see if there’s potential for Equinor.

There, they were given a task a little out of the ordinary for our interns: figure out if it’s possible to drive a robot and get a sense of space in your surroundings through a VR headset. What the Sandbox team imagines as the possible end game for this task is for an operator to arrive at work on land, strap on a VR headset and operate a robot offshore.

“If the robot is on a human scale the operator will quickly understand how to move around and operate the robot. We wanted to test this and see if the potential was there, so the first task was to see if the latency issues were too great to solve or not,” says Ole Martin Gjersvik, who mentored the interns during the project.

“We basically gave them a direction and free reign to figure out how they wanted to get there – if they got there. For us, it’s not important that everything we do has to result in an actual product. It’s all about the experiment and seeing if there is potential,” Gjersvik explains.

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Problem-solving with web cameras

With latency and video issues at the forefront, the team set up three different levels for what they measured their “success” in.

The first level was to just walk around with two cameras and stream the video feed into a VR headset. The second level was to mount the cameras on a table-mounted gimbal, while the third level would consist of cameras mounted on a robot that you could drive around.

Starting off at level one, they found that the Sandbox lab had quite a few parts and components lying around, among them some camera sensors.

“The cameras were well-specced and had high-resolution sensors that seemed perfect, but after several days of trying we couldn’t make them work to our needs. As the sensor is quite new to the market, few have shared their projects online. This made us realize our dependency on open-source communities,” Simen, a master’s student in Mechanical Engineering at NTNU, explains.

“In the end we tried using the standard Equinor web cameras that are on every desk, which were a perfect match. It felt like a waste of time at first, but that’s how you learn what works and not I guess,” Simen smiles.

They decided to divvy up the work in a 70-30 split, where each focused on areas they hadn’t worked a lot with previously. For Simen that could mean diving into the world of robot operating systems, while Ole M. looked into 3D-designing parts.

“There was a lot of trial and error both in building the robot and developing the software, but every little step forward made it worth it and motivated us to keep working,” Ole Martin, a master's student in Engineering at Northeastern University in Boston, explains.

Free reign to set a course

At the start of the summer, hosting a demonstration of a working robot to present their work was more of a potential bonus than a requirement.

But on the last day of their internship, they could invite colleagues to strap on a VR headset and take the robot for a spin.

“Even though there were no expectations for us to deliver a demo, it was a relief that we were able to build something that worked. Seeing people try the robot and hearing people’s feedback was exciting,” Ole Martin says.

And their mentor also found himself fascinated by watching the interns work on 3D modelling or designing digital prototypes of the robot.

“Getting to work together with the interns was a lot of fun and I’m proud of the result. We would never have been able to do what we did without working together like we did,” Ole Martin Gjersvik says.

“I think this robot is one of the best things to have come out of the lab so far, but we’ll have to see if my colleagues agree with me there,” Ole Martin laughs.

Summer internship

Our internship offers a hands-on experience in your chosen discipline while gaining a broad understanding of our strategy and operations across oil and gas, renewables, and low carbon solutions.

More about our summer internship