Gosforth firm pioneers fossil recognition software for use in shale oil and gas industry

Tumbling Dice Ltd has secured funding to apply its pattern recognition technology to oil and gas drilling activity

Mia Denos, one of the co-founders of Tumbling Dice Ltd
Mia Denos, one of the co-founders of Tumbling Dice Ltd

Software pioneer Tumbling Dice Ltd has secured part of a £2m fund to develop a world-leading idea to transform the way shale oil and gas drilling is guided.

Under the InnovateUK scheme, the Gosforth-based firm will work on putting its Daisy technology to use in the shale oil and gas industry.

A sophisticated type of pattern recognition software, Daisy was originally devised to identify species of insect.

Tumbling Dice founders Mia Denos and Mark O’Neill now hope to apply the same intelligence in the oil drilling process, which is guided by analysis of soil samples – normally conducted by paleontologists.

A sample is scrutinised for microfossils of “foraminifera” – tiny single-celled animals. The type of microfossils inform drilling companies of their location within the rock.

While Daisy’s capability has been proven, the funding from InnovateUK will help Tumbling Dice to establish its viability within industry.

Ms Denos, who founded Tumbling Dice with physicist Mr O’Neill, said: “At present, the oil and gas firms need to station a paleontologist at their drilling operations, which is expensive and time consuming.

“Sometimes, if there isn’t a paleontologist on site, a sample is often flown to the next nearest facility. This can cause hours of downtime for companies as drilling operations grind to a halt.

“Oil and gas firms face a shortage of trained paleontologists as the skills aren’t being renewed. That’s why the idea is not about replacing jobs – it’s good news for the industry as it can make the exploratory phase cheaper and more efficient.”

Tumbling Dice has strong links with the Natural History Museum in London, where Daisy is used by professor Norman McLeod to teach species identification.

The technology, which can be applied to images, sounds, chemical spectra and molecular data, has also featured on the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World programme.

This project is one of 19 that secured funding from InnovateUK to develop new technologies in water treatment, monitoring and well drilling and design.

UK Minister for Business, Enterprise and Energy Matt Hancock said: “Unlocking the shale gas and oil that is deep underground is an opportunity to reduce carbon emissions, increase our energy security and create jobs.

“It must be done safely and securely, so supporting innovation in this sector is vital to help us seize this opportunity.”

The fund, which will be run by the Government’s technology experts at Innovate UK, includes £1m in contributions from the Department for Energy and Climate Change and £250,000 from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Rob Saunders, head of Energy at Innovate UK, added: “Shale gas and oil could transform the energy sector in the UK, but for that to happen it’s vital that the public have confidence in the sustainability and above all, the safety of the industry.

“That is where innovation plays its role and the companies that have won the very competitive process we have run here are bringing considerable expertise to tackling this problem. “

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