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Undersea robots are commonly used in the energy industry to maintain equipment in deep waters, where extreme pressures stop humans from venturing.

Now a robot can help tackle minor hazards on the surface or on land before they grow into more serious incidents, without putting people at risk. It can work on platforms in stormy seas, or in oil and gas fields in remote, hostile environments.

Oil and gas operations are usually safe enough for technicians in protective gear to carry out inspection and maintenance tasks.

But to improve safety where potential hazards exist, scientists at Carnegie Mellon University's National Robotics Engineering Center in Pittsburgh, USA, worked with Shell engineers to develop Sensabot, a multi-talented robot packed with sensors and cameras.

A close-up view

Operators sitting safely up to 100 kilometres away can direct Sensabot with radio signals as it inspects pipes and valves in complex installations. It can measure heat, noise, vibration, and detect toxic and flammable gases, such as hydrogen sulphide and methane.

With 10 cameras, Sensabot can zero in on the smallest detail to give its human controllers a close-up view.

Sensabot is 1.28 metres long, 75 centimetres wide and 75 centimetres deep. It weighs 250 kilograms (550 lbs), about as much as a fully-grown gorilla.

Shell hopes to put it to work in some of its most remote oil and gas fields, where harsh conditions pose tough technical challenges.