A brave new digital world

From artificial intelligence to virtual reality programs, Saudi Aramco looks to the future of technology to help transform the way we operate.

  • Digitalization is transforming the way we operate

  • It can enable us to be more sustainable, efficient, and safe

  • Our 4IR Centre is where our innovation and technology combine

Rebecca Wallace |

Wearable technology, self-learning machines and virtual reality programs that simulate real-life experiences on an oil rig; these are just some of the technologies that Saudi Aramco is deploying, as it aims to become the world's leading digitalized energy company.

But digitalization is more than just gadgets for us – it is a chance to leverage innovative technologies so we can be more sustainable, efficient and safe. It is about us transforming our ability to provide the world's energy needs while shrinking the environmental imprint of hydrocarbons. Our initiatives have already led us to having the lowest carbon footprint among top producers in our industry – and as all signs point to a fully digitalized future, we plan on leading the way.

Our Shallow Water Inspection and Monitoring Robot (SWIM-R) enhances pipeline inspection speed, efficiency, and safety

A digital revolution

We are now undergoing the Fourth Industrial Revolution – or 4IR. All of us are experiencing an unprecedented wave of rapid technological advancement that is blurring the lines between the physical and digital and biological spheres; FinTech, AI, Internet of Things, blockchain, quantum computing – as these technologies become irreversibly entrenched in our lives it is not hyperbolic to say that the transformative changes will disrupt almost every sector.

The oil and gas sector is no different. In fact, it has long been one of the most cutting-edge industries when it comes to revolutionizing the workplace. From remotely operated unmanned rigs, to drones that can detect leaks, to underwater robots and 4D modelling of the subsurface, the adoption of 4IR technologies has unleashed new resources and efficiencies across the value chain.

Scientist Kareemuddin M. Shaikh checks the pressure control valve for the pilot plant used for one of the crude to chemicals technologies

A sustainable revolution

What is exciting is that unlike previous industrial revolutions, as we innovate for the future sustainability can be an objective from the outset. We are exploring technologies that can capture and sequester carbon from the atmosphere; turn CO₂into valuable products; advance game-changing solutions that can lower emissions in transportation; or convert crude oil directly to chemicals or hydrogen as the possible future energy source of choice.

As the world's largest integrated oil and gas company, sustainability is part of our long-term vision; as demand for energy continues to grow, we want to remain efficient, competitive, delivering tomorrow's energy while minimizing the environmental impact of our activities. Central to this vision is how we integrate these digital technologies into our applicable operations, from our oil fields to our offices.

‘Uthamaniyah Gas Plant, which has been recognized for its leadership in 4IR

A World Economic Forum “Lighthouse”

Take our 'Uthmaniyah Gas Plant (UGP). It has been recognized for its leadership in 4IR by the World Economic Forum's “Manufacturing Lighthouse Program” – the first plant in the oil and gas industry to be recognized by WEF – and was commended for enabling a more efficient, safer, and greener way of working.

Some of the technologies include:

Robotics and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)
Flying robots (UAVs), underwater robots (ROVs) and ground robots (crawlers) are used for emergency response, inspection and real-time data access, to improve diagnostics, enhance safety and reduce maintenance costs.
Wearable technologies
Digital Helmets empowers' field technicians with information, and provides them with the ability to communicate and collaborate in real-time. Technicians can also live broadcast their exact view to engineers, who are then able to guide the technician securely using augmented reality technology.
Asset performance management
A technology that addresses physical plant assets such as health, reliability, integrity, strategy and safety, to improve reliability and safety of operating assets.
Advanced analytics
Uses predictive analytics to apply algorithms on asset data that proactively catch anomalies, able to detect performance degradation and notifying users of potential problems.

Smart Plants, Smart Cities

This sort of pioneering 4IR technology has been made possible through our Digital Transformation Program – where we deploy cutting-edge digital technology across our business to transform the way we operate. 

For example, Upstream, our geoscientists use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to analyse seismic data and pinpoint sweet spots that can minimize drilling risks. Genetic algorithms are used to help understand and classify rocks lithology, thereby reducing uncertainty and enabling efficient and accurate reservoir characterization. And SpiceRack, a system that harnesses the collective data gathering power of a group of autonomous underwater vehicles, revolutionized the seismic data acquisition industry, especially in challenging underwater locations.

We built a nuclear magnetic resonance tool to create real time 3D profiles of Manifa’s reservoir layers

Moving from oil field to office space, we are also leveraging Internet of Things (IoT) and Advanced Analytics to create “smart cities” within Saudi Aramco communities – no longer just a futuristic vision, but fast becoming a reality. For example, our Integrated Smart City Systems project will cover Aramco’s main communities in Dhahran, Ras Tanura, ‘Udhailiyah and Abqaiq. Using smart sensors and AI, the project will encompass smart street lights, intelligent parking, smart power and water meters, and integrated transportation. Our aim is to conserve water, save energy, and improve the quality of life for our communities.

Saudi Aramco’s main campus in Dhahran

From Upstream to Downstream and beyond, we are fully committed to capitalizing on these technological breakthroughs. And the hub where this innovation and technology combine, is the impressive, state-of-the-art 4IR Center (4IRC).

A beacon of innovation

The 4IRC is over 2,500 square meters dedicated to the future of energy. It is a place to explore, ideate, prototype and pilot, before launching into full-scale deployment. It features 270 square meters of video walls, with a total of more than 109 million pixels that split into multiple clusters and zones, including the massive concave video screen of the Artificial Intelligence Hub, on which over 20 operational solutions are displayed.