BP trials virtual reality

Advanced Collaboration Environment blends physical world with models for remote troubleshooting activities. Technology components come from Qwaq and HP’s Knightsbridge unit.

At the SPE Digital Energy conference in Houston, HP unveiled its Advanced Collaboration Environment (ACE) for Oil and Gas, a virtual reality-based environment that BP has been trialing for a couple of years. HP’s Paul Helm told Oil IT Journal, ‘ACE for Oil and Gas targets the need for collaboration in short bursts—to solve problems by bringing people together. Our Palo Alto R&D center has applied Web 2.0 technology to information rich environments. Some key oil and gas accounts wanted to add VR to their collaborative workspaces to bring everyone involved in drilling a well together.’


ACE blends information from the physical world with applications and data. Avatars, simple representations of individuals inhabit ‘rooms’ with walls showing information from diverse sources. 3D objects—such as a CAD model of a drill bit are available for discussion. The ACE leverages technology developed by VR startup Qwaq, which was set up to develop software and services around the OpenCroquet project. Croquet, originally developed by IT legend Alan Kays, provides an API that guarantees that distant users of server-less, peer to peer systems all see the same information. HP has developed wrappers so that non-Croquet apps can run on the ACE’s walls.


Helm continued, ‘High bandwidth connections between Houston and Azerbaijan have allowed engineers to track the drilling decision process, clearing up ambiguities. Geologists manipulate models in front of drillers and live data streams in from Halliburton feeds. Mikes and stereo headsets allow for user interaction as if everyone was in the room. Simulators can model physical processes and messages passed between applications running across the ACE.’


Qwaq CEO Greg Nuyens told Oil IT Journal, ‘The technology is also used in training. Experts walk through complex processes on the rig alongside new hires to familiarize them with hazardous environments. We have three ongoing knowledge management projects in large energy companies. Croquet provides object synchronization and replicated computations. HP has extended the framework to include a dozen or so vertical applications from Schlumberger and Halliburton.’


Helm concluded ‘The ACE competes with Second Life or Sun’s Dark Star but this is an enterprise tool with scalability and security that goes beyond social networking. What is also key is we tie all these applications together using techniques developed by our IM Practice (IMP—formerly Knightsbridge Solutions). Applications running in the ACE s are synchronized using IMP’s metadata orchestration. We are now working to include VR Context’s WalkInside product to allow for smart click through to underlying plant data.’

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