[Virtual reality] is perfect for learning and instructing about the oil and gas production process and rig functionality.

Alejandro SUGICH CEO and Co-Founder SUMO

Virtual reality’s role in safety and efficiency

September 8, 2017

Alejandro Sugich, CEO and cofounder of Sumo, talks to TOGY about how virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed-reality (MR) technologies can be implemented in the oil and gas industry to improve safety and operational efficiency. Beginning operations in 2014, Sumo is a technological services provider concentrating on VR, AR and 360-degree transmissions and broadcasts.

• On cost reduction and safety: “With good VR content, you will not only be reducing the risk of accidents, but in the end, save a big amount of money. Think about how much an accident costs for the company. That is where cost reduction happens. That is where VR training tools represent an investment, not an expense.”

• On upstream applications: “A constant deployment of data streams into AR headsets gives an accurate impression of operational health and actively supports decision making. Drilling operations can cost a lot of money without the guarantee of finding oil. Monitoring drilling processes by 360-degree cameras can improve operations as well, and detect dangerous developments and leaks.”

• On downstream use: “AR will help optimise downstream operations, where risk to equipment and humans is ever present. In the near future, refineries will be scanned. All aspects will be recorded and put into software and people will be able to control part of it from an office in the city.”

Most TOGY interviews are published exclusively on our business intelligence platform TOGYiN, but you can find the full interview with Alejandro Sugich below.

How can VR technology be used in the oil and gas industry?
VR is a perfect tool for education, training, tourism, sports, science and entertainment to mention a few.
You can experience and study places you normally do not get to visit easily. This technology, which represents a totally new medium of its own, is perfect for learning and instructing about the oil and gas production process and rig functionality. With VR you have the ability to teletransport to offshore platforms without moving from your desk. You do not need to fly investors and company visitors to the site of interest anymore. You only need to capture the whole platform once and deploy the data into a headset at your office in London, Canada or Mexico.
VR and MR will be the tools for better training. For example, if you have a room of people who are watching a screen and need to learn about security procedures and how to behave on a platform, 40-50% of those people are not paying attention or engaging actively or sufficiently.
With VR, attention spans go up drastically. Trainers can be assured that their trainees are focusing on the content. They have the headsets on and it is very difficult for them to get distracted. Also, the content is highly immersive, so the retention of information is very high, up to 90%.
We do not argue that in the end, the best education for a human being is practice in reality. But this can be very expensive, logistically difficult and potentially dangerous.
There is a huge difference between VR and 2D training videos, since VR is interactive and closer to reality than the traditional way of training. With good VR content, you will not only be reducing the risk of accidents, but in the end, save a big amount of money. Think about how much an accident costs for the company. That is where cost reduction happens. That is where VR training tools represent an investment, not an expense.

 

What types of applications does AR technology have in the energy industry?
AR adds an extra layer to reality by wearing glasses or by using the camera option of smartphones and tablets. When walking a platform, for example, you can see a map of the platform and receive sensitive additional information tracked into the surroundings, but also get instructions on how to appropriately handle equipment or maintain infrastructure by superimposing animation and audio impulses.
Microsoft is the market leader for this type of technology and competitors are also betting on this technology and developing solutions at a fast pace. In June 2017, Apple announced its ARKit, which is a big step towards democratising AR.
Microsoft has glasses called HoloLens that are the best gear to constantly map out surroundings. People can use HoloLens while conducting operations in any oil and gas facility, or in any other sector, for that matter. These real-time instructions will potentially revolutionise onsite work from a safety and operational standpoint.
If a worker does not remember something, he can use these glasses to access a manual without consulting the phone, tablet or notebook. Navigation is effectively triggered by gestures and voice commands. You can have access to any information if you need to make decisions in seconds. AR will save a lot of lives and prevent a lot of accidents, not to mention that regular operations will be more precise than they are today. Within a year or so, certain workers’ helmets will have AR glasses included.
On some oil platforms, using or carrying a phone is not allowed. With AR glasses, you can have all the information without distraction. If there is an accident such as a fire, AR technology could tell you where to go, how to possibly extinguish a fire and guide you and your co-workers to safety.
An important fact is that these glasses are just the screens and sensors that channel video information into your eyes – the hardware. The concept content is app-based software that has to be created. That is where Sumo comes in. The hardware is the body and the app is the mind.

Will Mexico be an early adopter of VR in the oil and gas industry?
Mexico’s oil and gas sector is going through a historical moment. The rate of privatisation is significant and the number of players entering the market is growing. Companies in this sector embrace VR and can now demonstrate to the whole world the great services they provide for a relatively low investment by using VR as a promotional tool. The potential is across the whole value chain. We just need to consult the industry about the different applications of these VR technologies and how to use them in their best interest.
Mexico is expected to become the biggest VR market in Latin America and is finding its entry via 40 million plus smart phones. A number of companies are doing very impressive things all over the world; however, Mexico is becoming more mature and sophisticated by the nature of its problems, and a new generation of users and splendid creators are taking over. In terms of the energy sector, there is a lot of room for market expansion and innovation, especially regarding the topic of renewable energy and ecology.
Since training is the biggest market for this technology right now, with USD 74 billion spent in training around the world in 2016, early adoption is a logical consequence.
Then, there are specific applications. AR will help optimise downstream operations, where risk to equipment and humans is ever present. In the near future, refineries will be scanned. All aspects will be recorded and put into software and people will be able to control part of it from an office in the city. You can visit a refinery without physically visiting, and just experience it through a real-time VR live experience. This optimises training and operations, and creates efficiencies that end up reducing risk and costs.

How can advanced technologies improve safety in the industry?
This can happen by exposing decision makers to VR learning and offshore training simulations. After the employees are ready for the practical experience, they should use AR for putting the knowledge they assimilated into practice. The effectiveness of their work will reduce accidents to historically lower numbers and profits will rise because of improved operation efficiency.
A constant deployment of data streams into AR headsets gives an accurate impression of operational health and actively supports decision making. Drilling operations can cost a lot of money without the guarantee of finding oil. Monitoring drilling processes by 360-degree cameras can improve operations as well, and detect dangerous developments and leaks.

Are any new legislation or policies being developed to adapt the industry to these types of technologies?
This new medium is still very fresh and it will take time for new standards to be created. It is still very early. I do not see that happening for at least 18 months.
The sector is still concerned about the costs of VR; hence, it fails to see the immediate advantages. Sometimes it is very difficult to pitch the technology to a client, until they can see and experience what we are talking about. It will become clear that this is a smart investment and not a fancy expense when the popular mind embraces operating through VR and AR. We get great feedback from our customers and see an improvement within their learning curve about VR.

What is the technical capacity of Mexico’s labour pool for implementing this type of technology?
Regardless of nationality or basic education, if the VR experience is well made, immersive and interactive enough, we have the people’s attention and enthusiasm. The learning curve is tremendous.
We are convinced that the next killer app within XR [all the different branches of emerging realities, including VR, AR and MR] will be created by a LatAm developer, since the level of problems the Latino community has to be solved by this and the next generation of innovators.
This new medium is strongly related to the internet of things and to smartphone usage, so we won’t be alone in this tech revolution.
In general, in Mexico the labour pool is at a very high capacity, more so in AR and programming than VR. There is huge programming talent here and if it is not exported it will sustain innovation. There is also a huge animation community. ProMéxico and the Secretariat of Economy are doing an amazing job for this industry. We should be leading the way in LatAm in a couple of years. People from other countries will come to Mexico to get concepts done.
Sumo opened in the US for a particular reason: Silicon Beach is the capital of this new medium and we are pioneering and adopting early, since we wanted to learn from the best and become a globally operating company.
Today our operations in Mexico are larger than in the US. Mexico is already a very important place for AR, VR and MR and the combination of our US office and Mexican studio provides us with the best of both worlds, not to mention a global presence.

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