The 'articulate' oil field (June 2014)

Shell extends Gulf of Mexico trials of 'brave new technology,' from startup Arria. Toolset combines artificial intelligence with natural language generator to 'write reports from the data.'

UK headquartered natural language generation (NLG) specialist Arria's Data2Text unit has signed a three year extension to its deal with Shell for the use of NLG to report on equipment health on Gulf of Mexico assets. Following initial trials, Shell is to pay '$5-10 million' over the period for Arria's technology. Shell Oil rotating equipment specialist David Laux observed, 'I have worked [with Arria] on the vision for the articulate oil field from inception. This brave new technology has massive potential to change the way that oil and gas platforms are run.'

Arria has its origins in a 2009 University of Aberdeen spin-out, Data2Text. A group of investors, under the Arria banner, acquired 20% of Data2Text in 2012 with an option (exercised in October 2013) on the remaining 80%. Data2Text's technology has two components, an artificial intelligence toolset that extracts information from disparate data feeds and a natural language generation system that turns it into human-readable English. It's rather like HAL, the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey, which famously said, 'I've picked up a fault in the AE35 unit. It's going to 100% failure in 72 hours.'

In a flagship demonstrator, Data2Text's technology has been deployed at the UK Meteorological Office to generate fine grained local five day weather forecasts at some 5,000 locations around the UK.

Arria has succeeded with a high profile marketing campaign including keynote talks at SPE-sponsored events in Abu Dhabi and Utrecht. The technology was also presented at the Houston Pumps and Pipes event earlier this year (Aberdeen University's 'BabyTalk' NLG app assists neonatal carers).

In oil and gas, NLG is presented as a better way of communicating information to stakeholders than today's human machine interfaces. The system captures expert knowledge from about-to-retire subject matter experts and registers it as 'meaningful natural language narratives.' During operations, the NLG engine compares current and historical data from multiple sources 'combining data analytics and computational linguistics.'

In December 2013, Arria floated 36% of its share capital on the London stock market. The shares jumped from the 1 issue price to peak at 2.82 before falling back sharply in the first week of trading. Arria is currently at 55p. The company has been awarded two US patents for its technology, Ns 8,762,133 and 8,762,134.

Winding up his keynote at the SPE Abu Dhabi event on the 'articulate machine,' Arria CTO Robert Dale asked, 'What would your data tell you if it had a voice?' Let's hope it's not 'Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.' More from Arria (and HAL).

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