Smart Glasses Change The View In Oil Industry
May 5, 2016
Source: Houston Chronicle
The offshore worker is handling a piece of equipment on an oil platform. He looks left and sees a three-dimensional manual of instructions. Looking right, he can see a deconstructed version of the equipment to better view its individual parts.
The 3-D smart glasses on display at the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston will soon be more broadly deployed to the oil fields to help energy workers operate more efficiently.
The glasses present an augmented reality, projecting images into one's actual field of vision, rather than virtual reality images, which are more like putting the user into a movie. The industry has chitchatted about virtual and augmented reality for years, but only now is the technology advancing enough to potentially become practical.
The technology now represents an industry-specific version of the widely touted Google Glass product that was indefinitely delayed.
"Our end goal is to have these replace safety goggles," said Vincent Higgins, the CEO of Houston-based Optech4D, which was formed in 2012.
Several energy companies used new virtual reality headsets to tout products at this week's OTC. The oil and gas industry has a low tolerance threshold for new technologies that aren't quickly applicable, Higgins said, and presentations are an obvious application.
"The technology is very new. But it's all about being useful. Not just shiny new toys," Higgins said. "Two years ago, virtual reality wasn't a reality."
While it's difficult to imagine many older roughnecks embracing electronic eyewear, Higgins points to the so-called "great crew change" of many energy workers now retiring - by their own choosing or not - and a bevy of younger workers replacing them, even during the ongoing downturn.
"I think the next generation ... is embracing this very quickly," he said.
Optech4D has its roots as a training simulation company, but it's branching out to the oil field and offshore. The company offers virtual reality training compatible with new Oculus Rift headsets and other competing technologies.
Putting on an Oculus Rift headset at OTC, you are virtually transported to the helideck on an oil platform. You feel compelled to duck down while moving past the helicopter's tail rotor. Quickly trekking down a flight of virtual steps on the rig provides a dizzying sensation.
But it's the augmented reality "Smartglasses" by San Francisco-based ODG - Optech 4D provides the software and implementation, not the hardware - that has more widespread potential, Higgins said.
The Smartglasses already are being deployed with companies like Royal Dutch Shell and Siemens' subsidiary Dresser-Rand for some maintenance and inspection work, Higgins added. They need to be lighter with a wider range of view, he said, but those issues are expected to be largely resolved through a new model expected to come out in January.
The plan is to soon begin a large-scale launch into the oil fields once final industry safety certifications are approved.
He's optimistic the glasses will start becoming more common on rigs in about two years.
Each set costs about $2,700, but that's not a lot more than a computer tablet certified for oil field work, and the costs will keep coming down as they're mass produced, Higgins said.
As for other companies, BP used virtual reality headsets at OTC to showcase its technological capabilities in enhanced oil recovery and seismic research.
Likewise, Milwaukee-based Gardner Denver used Google Cardboard-based 3-D headsets to show off its new Thunder Series of hydraulic fracturing pump, complete with lightning-crackling graphics.
"Part of it is the ability to connect with customers," Gardner Denver CEO Saeid Rahimian said.