how knowing your VR from your AR or MR will open a whole new digital world of possibility for oil and gas

Are you up to date on technology trends with potential oil and gas applications? Heard of Pokemon Go? Know your AR from your MR? Tried a virtual reality system? If not read on….

We all know the world changes and no matter who we are, what we do or which country we are in, most of us live in a very different world to one in which we grew up. Technology is an arena full of trends and new innovations, some of which maybe become short lived fads, some of which will become inherent new ways of working or living and it won’t be long until we look back at the latter and wonder how we ever lived without them.

We all know the world changes and no matter who we are, what we do or which country we are in, most of us live in a very different world to one in which we grew up. Technology is an arena full of trends and new innovations, some of which maybe become short lived fads, some of which will become inherent new ways of working or living and it won’t be long until we look back at the latter and wonder how we ever lived without them.

Trends come and go very quickly, but technology development is growing at a pace many of us find hard to comprehend and keep up with. In this article, we look at some of the forthcoming technology trends, where they were borne and how they may impact the oil and gas industry.

Cyber security

In 2016 cybercrime hit the headlines. Whether it was claims of the Russian state influencing the US Presidential elections, customers of Tesco Bank seeing £2.5m stolen from their accounts or the Mirai worm hijacking the IOT (Internet of Things) to disrupt a variety of websites including Twitter, Spotify and Reddit. Ultimately cyber security is an increasingly important topic for any business and particularly when considering how technology and data will be harnessed in the future.

At io we have discussed at length the advantages offered by the IIOT (Industrial Internet of Things). In essence the IIOT relies on the ability of machines to exchange information between each other and with a cloud computing environment. Between 2010 and 2012 the Stuxnet worm, believed by many experts to be a state generated cyber weapon primarily targeted at industrial facilities, exploited the transfer of data between computers and infected over 50% of Iranian computers [1], causing significant damage to the Iranian nuclear programme. As well as interconnectedness, the advantages of the IIOT relies on the integrity of the information exchanged. If a hacker, or some other means of corruption, renders the data invalid, then entire operations are compromised. As we move towards the digital oilfield the threat of ransomware becomes ever more critical; how many days of lost production would it take before an oil company pays a ransom to a hacker to release control of operations? The cyber threat to companies is not purely a software threat either. In 2016 the average pay out to cyber criminals exploiting human vulnerabilities was $140,000 [2]. Cybercrime is becoming a greater threat to us all. As the oil and gas industry moves more into the digital world, there must be a shift in attitude regarding cyber security. Control of data movement will need to increase, staff must be educated to improve awareness and change behaviours and the role of the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) will need more prominence within organisations.

Virtual reality

Have you heard of the Oculus Rift? If not, then you don’t know about an example of a virtual reality system. Facebook purchased Oculus in 2014 for $2 billion and an additional $1 billion in later pay-outs [3]. At the time, CEO Mark Zuckerberg was reported as saying virtual reality would be the next major computing platform to change the world. Much like if you cast your minds back 20 years or more to when mobile phones were on the cusp of new technology becoming mainstream.

Virtual reality, the software creation of a multidimensional environment with which a person can interact, has been long heralded as the future of gaming. Now, as advances are made in virtual reality, making it more realistic, it offers huge benefits to the oil and gas industry. Consider the advantages that a virtual environment capable of running a variety of disaster scenarios offers in terms of the identification of response planning. Fire, natural disaster, even terrorist attacks can all be simulated to identify the best means of escape and life preservation. By introducing personnel to a simulation allows emergency response training to take place within a safe environment; evacuation drills can take place remote from an operating oil and gas facility.

Haptic technology

The word ’haptic’ comes from the Greek ‘to touch’, so it is no surprise that haptic technology, which has been around for a number of years, is all about using force feedback to simulate tactile experiences. This can be applied within a virtual reality environment or something as simple as a mobile phone screen responding to a different pressure; this is how your iPhone 7 “home” button works. The uses for haptic technology are very varied and include yoga pants which can detect errors in posture and then signal the required corrections; it has been adopted by the medical industry to help train clinical skill aquistiton [4] and the military have incorporated haptic feedback technology to give bomb disposal experts better control of robots working with suspect devices [5]. This not only offers training opportunities to the oil and gas industry, it also allows the ability for more operations to be carried out remotely by robots, controlled by experts, who can feel what the robot feels.

Augmented reality

Augmented reality (AR) is the supplementation of reality with computer generated information of any variety, the most famous recent example being Pokemon Go. It is also used in a variety of business settings such as the construction industry, where software has been developed to turn 2D drawings and plans into a 3D model using a phone or a tablet. AR offers many benefits to the oil and gas industry, as demonstrated by Maersk Oil’s plans for the Culzean development [6]. Maersk are testing AR technology which could be used to present equipment specifications and drawings to a maintenance engineer working offshore to support fault finding or offshore personnel could use eyewear similar to Google Glasses to be presented with real time operating information while walking around a facility. Going further, AR can be used to allow onshore experts to provide video streams to offshore personnel carrying out complex activities.

Mixed reality

Similar to AR, mixed reality (MR) involves the supplementation of reality with digital objects. However, MR differs from AR by seamlessly integrating the virtual and reality. For example, paint manufacturer Dulux offer a phone app that allows you to picture how your home would look painted in a particular colour and the construction industry where there has been the development of headsets that allow clients to experience the view or choose the interior design of a building before it has been constructed. This offers potential benefit to the oil and gas industry where brownfield upgrades can be visualised on a platform such that potential clashes, construction difficulties and even emergency plans can be considered before work starts.

Artificial intelligence

The advance of intelligent machines and cognitive systems offer perhaps the biggest advantages to the oil and gas industry. As platforms become more digitised, the interconnected nature of the IIOT means that each piece of equipment can become more aware of the surrounding equipment. Each part of the system can know how all the others are operating and the environment in which they are operating. This cognitive system can be used to optimise operational efficiency. Consider the machine that knows the ambient temperature is approaching the limit of its operating ability and reduces duty to stave off a breakdown and unplanned maintenance. Couple this machine intelligence with a digital twin of an asset, which can run innumerable simulations of operating conditions and we not only have the ability for an asset to identify signs of equipment performance reduction but the twin can identify and implement the best solution to optimise production. Not only does this offer an autonomous oil field but a self-optimising oil field that leverages the IIOT and cloud computing capabilities to deliver operational excellence.

Now consider combining this automation with engineering, procurement and construction. A model can be automatically sent to suppliers who deliver the required equipment, in accordance with the most efficient construction schedule, to a yard where robots carry out construction supervised by experts working remotely. Is this science fiction? Or the future for the oil and gas industry? Only time will tell but what is clear is the industry is currently faced with a ‘lower for longer’ oil price scenario. In a sub $50/barrel world, cutting costs alone is not enough to make complex developments commercially viable. To be sustainable, the industry needs to look at new approaches; it needs to learn from other industries and embrace new technology.

At io we believe in starting with the end in mind, this means to take advantage of these and other technologies we need to embed a digital philosophy at concept stage and continue to develop this through the full life cycle of an asset. Drawing on our parents’ extensive experience in the digitisation of the industry in combination with our deep domain expertise, io are uniquely positioned to deliver greater certainty to oil and gas developments through the implementation of a digital thread.