The Use of Smart Glasses in the Oil Industry
As an offshore worker handles a piece of equipment on an oil platform, he looks left and sees a three-dimensional manual of instructions. Looking right, gives him a view of a deconstructed version of the equipment to better view its individual parts.
Augmented Reality on the oil rigs
The 3-D smart glasses on display at the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston will soon be deployed more broadly in oil fields all over the world to help energy workers operate more efficiently.
The glasses offer what is called an augmented reality, a projection of images into one’s actual field of vision, rather than virtual reality, which works more like putting the user into a movie. The oil industry has discussed virtual and augmented reality for years, but only now is the technology advancing enough to potentially become practical.
The technology now makes up an industry-specific version or variation 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, a company that was formed in 2012.
Several energy companies utilized new virtual reality headsets to promote products at this week’s OTC. Higgins further observed that the oil and gas industry has a low tolerance threshold for new technologies that aren’t quickly applicable, 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.”
Even though it’s difficult to imagine many older roughnecks embracing electronic eyewear, Higgins refers to the so-called “great crew change” of many energy workers now retiring – by their own choosing or not – and a flock of younger workers replacing them, even during the ongoing downturn.
“I think the next generation … is embracing this very quickly,” he said.
Optech4D was originally a training simulation company, but it has since branched out to the oil field and offshore, with the company offering virtual reality training compatible with new Oculus Rift headsets and other competing technologies.
Putting on an Oculus Rift headset at OTC, transports you virtually to the helideck on an oil platform. You feel compelled to duck down as you move past the helicopter’s tail rotor. a You get a dizzying sensation as you quickly trek down a flight of virtual steps on the rig.
Optech 4D’s Smartglasses
Higgins however reckons 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 in the oil industry.
The Smartglasses are already being deployed by companies like Royal Dutch Shell and Siemens’ subsidiary Dresser-Rand for some maintenance and inspection work, Higgins added. He said the glasses need to be lighter and possess a wider range of view, issues expected to be largely resolved through a new model expected to come out in January.
Plans for deployment
They plan to soon begin a large-scale launch into the oil fields immediately final industry safety certifications are approved.
Higgins is optimistic that the glasses will start becoming more common on rigs in about two years.
Each set currently costs about $2,700, which is not a lot more than a computer tablet certified for oil field work, and, as is usual with growing technologies, the costs will keep coming down as they’re mass produced, Higgins said.