GE mixing drones and artificial intelligence

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In a picnic area at General Electric Co.’sGlobal Research Center, a group of scientists and engineers are working on a new industrial revolution that will involve robots, drones and artificial intelligence.

GE has been developing robot and artificial intelligence technologies for many years now.

But these researchers in Niskayuna are part of GE’s latest effort to monetize that technology with the launch of Avitas Systems, a new GE-created company being incubated in Boston with help from scientists here in the Capital Region.

Avitas is creating technologies that will be artificial intelligence, or AI, combined with robots and predictive data analytics and software to provide high-tech inspection services to energy and transportation companies.

On Tuesday, a team supervised by John Lizzi, director of robotics at GE Global Research, and Judy Guzzo, a project leader, were performing drone testing on a simulated oil rig flare stack.

Researchers at GE Global Research in Niskayuna test drone technology

Media: Larry Rulison

“Really the concept for the business and the technology came out of the Global Research Center here,” Lizzi said. “We’ve been experimenting with drones and other types of robotics for a while. Eventually that gained momentum as a real business opportunity.”

Currently, oil and gas companies use human workers hooked onto harnesses to inspect flare stacks for wear and damage. The inspections are dangerous and require the drilling companies to temporarily pause their operations, costing them valuable time away from drilling.

GE’s drone technology being offered by Avitas eliminates all of that human work that is so costly and dangerous. And GE’s software creates so-called digital twins of industrial equipment that can predict when the actual equipment will break down or need servicing.

The technology is currently being targeted for customers of GE’s oil and gas business. Guzzo spent two months in the Gulf of Mexico on an oil rig a year ago testing sensor technology that is also used by Avitas.

“Unplanned asset downtime is a top issue for the oil and gas industry, and can cost operators millions of dollars,” Kishore Sundararajan, the chief  technology officer of GE Oil & Gas, said. “Avitas Systems will help enhance the efficiency of inspections, and can help our customers and others avoid significant costs by reducing downtime and increasing safety.”