Drone Assists Horizontal Directional Drilling

In the drilling world, sometimes you don’t drill straight down. If you need to create an underground passage for utilities under a road, river or obstacle, or to drink someone else’s milkshake, you can drill horizontally.

How do you know if your cutting tool is at the right depth or on the right path? You have a person follow the underground drill bit over the surface with a special tool that tells you where the drill bit is located at any given point in time, including its depth.

What if there are obstructions in the person’s way? Drones to the rescue!

As the patent application says, “The horizontal directional drilling (HDD) industry traditionally uses walk-over tracking techniques to follow the progress of a bore, to find the surface location immediately above the drill bit, and to determine the depth of the drill bit from that surface location. The primary tracking tools are a subsurface transmitter and a hand-carried surface receiver. The transmitter, located in or very near a cutting tool, generally emits a magnetic dipole field created by a single coil dipole antenna. The transmitted dipole field can be used for both location and communication with the above ground receiver. Hand-held receivers are very useful and are appropriate in most drilling operations because the operator can walk along the borepath to track the cutting tool. However, from time-to-time obstructions or restrictions may prevent an operator from walking along the entire borepath. Thus, there remains a need for receivers that are capable of locating a cutting tool when the operator is not able to position himself and the receiver over the cutting tool.”

This invention is simple yet effective, and another terrific use of drone technology. The drone can even tell the drill bit where to go.

Claim 1 is quite elegant and broad:

  1. A system for tracking a drill bit, the system comprising:
  • a drill rig;
  • a drill string having a first end and a second end, the first end is operatively connected to the drill rig;
  • a downhole tool connected to the second end of the drill string;
  • a dipole magnetic field transmitter supported by the downhole tool;
  • a drill bit connected to the downhole tool;
  • and a self-propelled autonomous receiver comprising:
  • an antenna assembly to detect the magnetic field and generate an antenna signal;
  • a processor programmed to receive the antenna signal and generate a command signal;
  • and a propulsion system to receive the command signal and move the receiver to a position above the transmitter.


Title: “Device and Method for Tracking a Downhole Tool”

US Patent Application No: 20160018551

Filed (US Prov): Jul. 17, 2014

Published: January 21, 2016

Applicant: The Charles Machine Works, Inc. Perry  OK

Where is that drill bit? Right there.