France's equivalent of DARPA has a lofty task for you. The National Research Agency is challenging engineers to design and build an autonomous oil-drilling robot that can operate continuously for six weeks at a time. And they're willing to pay you handsomely.
Well, to be exact, the French oil company Total is offering a €3.5 million (nearly $5 million) budget and a €500,000 (about $680,000) prize for the winning team. The National Research Agency's website describes the so-called ARGOS challenge:
The goal of the ARGOS Challenge is to foster the development of advanced robotic capabilities in oil & gas environments. The programme is based on robot systems which can safely operate in complete or supervised autonomy over the entire onshore or offshore production site, potentially in hazardous explosive atmospheres. The overall objective is to enhance the safety of operators in isolated production sites.
It's actually a pretty brilliant idea. As we've seen time and time again, drilling for oil is a dangerous job—however necessary for keeping our gas guzzling machines running. But just as unmanned aerial vehicles make a fighter pilot's job safer—and just as autonomous trucks are already operating at some mines—these drilling drones will inevitably save some lives. Until they develop minds of their own and turn this beautiful planet into Swiss cheese, that is. [Digital Energy Journal]