Virtual Reality comes of Age at Silicon’s Galveston show. (January 1999)

Following PDM’s downbeat review of VR (see PDM Vol 3 No 10) Silicon Graphics have made a significant pitch for explorationists’ virtual hearts and minds at the 1999 High Performance Visualization and Computing Summit held at Galveston, Texas. Laramie Winczewski, president of Fourth Wave Group ( has kindly supplied us with an enthusiastic view from the exhibition floor.

The High Performance Visualization and Computing Summit, sponsored by Silicon Graphics Computer Systems (SGI), was held in Galveston, Texas this month with around 325 attendees, representing 78 businesses and organizations from 15 countries. Nineteen vendors exhibited several applications of immersive visualization technologies. Thirty presentations and discussion panels addressed topics ranging from the basics of the technology to its effects on workflow. Case studies illustrated the technology's business value and role in the workplace.

No escape

Immersive visualization fills the user’s field of view, monopolizing the visual sense. One speaker said, "You can't get away from the data!" while Mike Zeitlin of Texaco added "Let the mind look at it". Immersive visualization fosters collaboration among members of a multi-disciplinary team. Within the room-size scale of an immersion facility, team members can readily communicate to each other comments, concerns, issues and discoveries. Real-time sharing of information and expertise enables knowledge workers to consider more aspects of the displayed content. Such lively collaboration, yields a higher quality intellectual product with better understood risk factors. Examples included; changing the location of a seafloor facility to reduce pipeline costs, and optimizing the number of wells required to drain a reservoir. Large exploration projects normally requiring months of analysis can be completed in weeks or less thanks to immersive visualization. Management comprehension of project results is also facilitated. Although one contrary opinion was expressed by a vocal proponent of immersive visualization. "Keep managers away from it!" he warned.

Selling VR

Technology issues range from the inadequacy of the technical standards necessary for data and systems integration, to the slow progress of software vendors in retrofitting popular software to this technology. Several immersive visualization facilities were installed across the petroleum industry last year. A concern amongst attendees was the need to "sell" this expensive technology to management during the industry's current downturn. The value of immersive visualization lies in enhancing opportunity and avoiding risks. For example, immersive technology helps interpreters "see" a variety of obscure drilling prospects that, in the aggregate, may be as valuable as a large, obvious seismic structure. Cost reduction benefits were considered to be of secondary importance. Some issues have yet to be adequately addressed:

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