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Dials and gauges aren’t enough anymore!

Augmented Reality – The Best Way to Keep Your Rig “Online”

Virtually reality has been all the rage over the past few years. The reason has to do with what markets it serves. It has become very popular with gamers, for instance, as well as with trainers and simulation companies. With this technology, you can view a rendering of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and drive in the Indy 500, or even hop into a spaceship and travel to Mars. You can also teach soldiers how to clear a village full of hostile forces or show an airline pilot how land his plane after engine failure. Virtual reality does exactly what the name implies: It creates a virtual reality, limited only by the imagination of the developer.

Augmented reality, on the other hand, is a horse of different color altogether. AR does not let you create reality, but rather allows you to interpret it more accurately and comprehensively. For example, you’re driving down a two-lane highway at a high rate of speed. You want to pass the slow-poke in front of you, but the cars in the other lane are headed toward you at an equally high rate of speed. You use your best judgment and decide that you can pass. If your judgment is flawed, perhaps you can swerve back into your lane; if not, then it could mean disaster.

Now, let’s say you had an AR windshield, fed by a mobile AR app. The app uses GPS to instantly relay to your windshield the speed of the nearest car in the other lane, and judges if it is safe to pass the slow-poke’s car. As the driver, you don’t have to do anything but look for the cue on your windshield, perhaps green to pass and red to not. Additionally, using the AR app, the GPS can also let you know if an oncoming car is going to emerge from that not-visible-to-the-naked-eye dip in the road. By augmenting the reality of your drive with real-time information, you can make better decisions faster and stay safe.

AR Use Cases

To date, the top use cases for AR include the following:

  1. Retail – Using AR to make the shopping experience interactive and more efficient.
  2. Industrial Field Services – Giving on-site inspectors, for example, immediate access to data from experts around the world.
  3. Design and Modeling – Providing real feedback on design and model effectiveness.
  4. Training and Education – Shortening the time between novice and expert.
  5. Repair Services – Letting service technicians see problems before they happen, and illustrating exactly what the repairs should consist of.

For the oil/gas rig maintenance, items 2 and 5 are the most applicable, but 3 and 4 can also be used for more long-term benefits (e.g., through better designs and better-trained technicians).

AR in Oil and Gas Rig Maintenance

Columbia University’s Computer Graphics and User Interfaces Lab has done some excellent work in exploring how augmented reality can be used for maintenance and repair. The Lab concludes that by utilizing augmented reality in the form of head-worn displays that provide the users’ with graphical instructions, safety warnings and other diagnostic data, worker productivity, safety and efficiency can be measurably improved. The site also has some excellent illustrative videos to really drive home the point.

While the study is not specific to oil and gas exploration efforts, it’s easy to see how the criticality of monitoring, maintenance and repair in the industry makes the utilization of this cutting-edge technology essential. Given the challenges of rig maintenance, the expense of equipment going offline and the consequences of malfunction (see Deepwater Horizon), the case for AR is stronger yet. And the benefits are not limited to the company doing the drilling, but rather are spread throughout the economic and environmental ecosystem.

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