How Augmented Reality is Transforming Oil and Gas

Robert McGrath/ May 31, 2017/ Augmented Reality, Uncategorized

What is Augmented Reality (AR)?
First off let’s make sure that we all understand what is meant by the term Augmented Reality.  In the simplest terms Augmented Reality is a bridge between an object in the physical world and information about that object.  That ‘bridge’ is digital.  For example, simply gazing at an hydraulic pump and being presented with data showing you its operating pressure directly within your line of sight.  Or informing you the last time it was serviced and how many operational hours are remaining until the next service.  No more having to recall that information from a different source, no more having to go off and read a manual, a preventative maintenance schedule or if you are lucky, reading the information stamped onto the pump (often out of date).  Those days will soon be behind us.  If you want to know the differences between AR,VR and MR check out our paper What is the difference between Virtual, Mixed and Augmented Reality?

Ok…I understand AR…But Why Do We Need It?
Let’s step back a moment and understand why Augmented Reality needs to be taken seriously.  A lot of people may not appreciate this but humanity has now entered the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The first was “steam power” driving magnificent production efficiencies in areas such as mining, the second gave us “electrical power” moving us to mass production capabilities and the third delivered electronics and IT systems leading to “computers and automation”.  The third revolution crucially was the start of building up large data banks or digitisation as we call it.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution however is proving difficult to get our heads around.  Why? Because it is not one tangible technology that is driving it.  

It is multiple; Big Data, Internet of Things, Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), 3D Printing, Gene Editing, Ubiquitous Computing, Augmented and Virtual Reality and many others.  This is completely and utterly unprecedented in the history of humanity.  
The overriding impact of these avalanches of technological advancements is that we not only have more information about our real world than ever before but – and here is the difference – we are now creating the tools to manipulate the real world like never before!  So not only do we know what we want to do (because we have unparalleled levels of information) but we can also change it to suit our needs in ways that were incomprehensible 20 years ago.  Check out our paper to know about these technological advancements.

At Augnite we are calling this the “Age of Control”.  Control the kind of which we’ve never had before. Control of our manufacturing plants, offshore drilling platforms even our own bodies!  At Augnite we understand that the Augmented Reality will be the fundamental user interface into this new world.
We believe that the Age of Control will deliver more change in a shorter time than all three previous revolutions.  Let’s not be hubristic though – we are standing on the shoulders of giants.  

Where Can It Be Used in Oil and Gas?
So, what does all this mean for Oil and Gas?  Why is the Augmented Reality within the Age of Control transformative for O&G?  In a nutshell it’s significantly reduced operational costs and facilitates more accurate decision making.
A properly integrated Augmented Reality Solution will grant greater control of business operations by all individuals at all levels within an organisation.
Essentially this means better and more accurate decisions taken more quickly by senior managers. This is because of access to real time information that, crucially, people can intuitively understand without complicated spreadsheets and reports that an MIT study has proven people can’t remember! 

A properly designed AR solution presents that same data in a way that a human can easily understand. That is..visually.  It means highly proficient and expensive engineers can sit in control of several offshore assets and control them all in real time using a Head Mounted Display such as the Microsoft Hololens.  This happens at the moment to some extent but largely as dashboards and not the information that an offshore operator is actually seeing. It means that personnel looking at a wellhead for the first time are given clear real time visual instruction through their DAQRI Smart Helmet on how to operate it, and their actions can be captured for audit purposes.

But how do humans make sense of all this information?  How do specialists interact with all this new information? Are current Distributed Control Systems up to the job?   
What is clear is that our current method of interacting with information (WIMP) Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointer simply won’t cut it.  We need to move to a more intuitive method that leverages our human senses.  Vision and Hearing are the two most obvious. This is where Augmented Reality, or Mixed Reality which encompasses it, comes to the rescue.  When you consider that an individual can operate more equipment, more safely and with less travel the ROI is a no-brainer.  Delivering more control with fewer personnel requires new technology and Augmented Reality is that enabling technology.

Maersk Oil understand this only too well with their Culzean gas project.

The Safety Case
The costs associated with safety training are huge and the question remains on just how effective current training delivery is.  As important as safety is the reality is that such training sometimes does not have the impact we would like or doesn’t penetrate enough to be recalled at times of duress. Augmented Reality or Mixed Reality quashes many of these limitations.  We know only too well that the safety and environmental costs from major incidents can be incalculable and the ROI of effective safety training is all too clear.  Augmented and Mixed Reality amplifies that ROI.
We could argue that the only real true test of safety training is how people react when things do go wrong, in the real world so to speak.  Which is why the military often train with live weapons and accept that every now and again someone will die.

Obviously we don’t want to inject that risk into the corporate world but we should do everything we can to make safety training as realistic as possible and Augmented Reality gets us an awful lot closer to reality.  In addition to the immersive training this technology offers there is the ability to deliver real time instructions to individuals and teams when a given scenario arises.  E.g. Escape routes that steer people away from a hazard rather than accidentally into it.  We can test that people can navigate an environment efficiently, can locate first aid stations and fire suppression kits as well as alarms in low light scenarios and with harmless smoke generated.  There can be a map that shows the location of co-workers much like that in a game where you see other players.  Augmented Reality has the potential to deliver all of this and especially so through the next generation of Head Mounted Displays such as Daqri Smart Helmet.

Other examples could be where an operator simply looking at an accumulator can see that it is out its operating pressure range or using thermal imaging detect the actual temperature of an electrical connection and noticing that it is much hotter than surrounding areas – denoting a possible bad connection. But the important point of note here is that this same real time information seen by the operator can also be viewed by a remote supervisor who is looking at a 3D AR model.  

OK…I’m Convinced But What Would It Look Like in Practice?
Imagine a 3D modelled drilling platform, the one that you are actually responsible for, presented in front of your very eyes,  Crucially this is generated by actual live systems data.  So you can see that a particular sub-component is highlighted red?  You zoom in and are presented with live information that it is red because it is awaiting a replacement part which is now delayed in transit as of 15 minutes ago.  
How do we know this?  

Because the logistics chain is being digitised too.  But an Operations Manager would struggle to get the latest report from the various logistics companies and overlay that in real time on his assets. Especially on top of the 100 other things they are expected to do that moment.  
The use cases with a transformative technology such as Augmented Reality can be mind-boggling. All these areas, and more, lend themselves to improvements with AR:

  • Workflow Streamlining
  • Remote Working/Remote Supervision
  • Reservoir Modelling
  • Wells Management
  • Business Information Systems
  • Asset Management

Pretty Pictures Are Only Part of the Picture
Currently Augmented/Mixed/Virtual Reality offerings tend to focus on the art-work or the hardware. Don’t get me wrong, we need 3D art assets and of course we need the Head Mounted Display such as the Hololens or the DAQRI Smart Helmet.  But they are little more than pretty pictures or paper weights unless they show you highly relevant and contextual information in real time.  Actionable, relevant, contextualised, spatially aware information.

That means real live data being fed from a multitude of systems and components all brought together and presented to the end user in a way that actually empowers them.  Don’t underestimate how hard that is.  Modern systems, including Mixed and Augmented Reality systems, rarely run on a single device. The application may operate on a smartphone, maybe IoS, Android or both, but may refer to some data from web servers, or provide analytics data for usage, or crucially they may bridge to Industrial Control Systems – what is becoming known as the Internet Of Things (IoT).  When we consider industrial or commercial systems their scope can be global, incorporate a plethora of hardware/software combinations, have multi-layered security and restrictions. Yet all the elements need to work together and support new technologies without in any way disrupting what is there already.

To create real world solutions, the entire environment must be considered and this is exactly what Augnite do.  Technology that bridges the integration of real world live data and presents it to the end user so they can do their job better.  Without this bridging technology Augmented Reality solutions will be isolated, stagnant and deliver poor ROI.  We understand how the Head Mounted Displays work and can produce artwork for them and critically we have the ability to make those art assets represent your real systems data in real time with our middleware messaging hub.
If you are looking to explore an integrated Augmented Reality solution in your operations then contact Augnite today to kick-start the conversation.