Extended reality, latest tech breakthrough for training

In an environment where new technologies appear to be emerging at the speed of light, the industry is faced with maintaining the breakneck pace of these operational advances and benefits.

This phenomenon is especially true with the adoption of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology. However, hot on the heels of AR and VR is augmented reality (XR), which combines real and virtual environments using computers, wearables and more to collect and analyze data.

Paul Daley, senior eLearning specialist at ConocoPhillips, described his company’s progress in implementing emerging technologies as having a “toe in the water.” The onset and ripple effects of COVID-19 did not help that progress.

“We had a proof of concept that was planned and was being built through 2019. Then came 2020,” Daley recalled. “No one had the appetite to tell the owner that it would cost a lot of money to figure this out. So that proof of concept didn’t go forward.”

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As COVID-19 subsides, Daley said, things have changed.

“There have been efforts driven from ‘up, down’ and ‘down, up,’ where the ‘down, up’ was an existing training program to improve things,” he said. Daly joked that there was a very extreme but practical ‘we’re going to drag this trailer around and show what happens if you cut your fingers’-type proposal.

“But they wanted to see if VR could create a more memorable experience, because everyone had seen how to cut their fingers for the past 10 years. It was a project that we had to shop around a lot and figure out an affordable way to do it.

Daley said the company chose to implement an “off the shelf solution” for its VR and XR needs, “which was a way to reduce development costs.”

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In an ‘up, down’ solution, Daley said, the ConocoPhillips CIO who saw the benefits of VR “was able to write a check and develop something.”

‘It’s not all about the Benjamins’

Along with financial pressures, there are many challenges to successfully bringing emerging technologies into the field.

Some of those challenges to introducing VR and XR, Daley said, “came at bad times. In those cases, that’s not what businesses do, and sometimes, it’s just learning,” he said with a laugh.

“We have this great technology and we want to use it. Even culturally, I would say, you’re in a training mindset and still for some reason you’re afraid to look at it,” Daly said. “You’ve got to go before that, and that can be a ‘baby steps’ kind of thing, because they want to take multiple options, get a checkmark and move on.”

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When it comes to safety, XR technology allows managers to ensure workers properly perform inspections, lock out/tag out and other responsibilities necessary for safety, said Susan Spark, learning technology manager with Schlumberger at XR Technology.

“You can measure the force holding the tool to prevent it from bending; they actually make the right gesture with their hand, and more. It’s a completely different mindset to its structural design,” she said at the recent Industrial XR Global Summit in Houston.

Spark observed that the Learning Management System (LMS) was a “mindset more than two decades old” and compared the use of an LMS to installing a governor on a Formula One racecar.

“There’s so much more that you can measure in XR – that’s where we really have to be concerned and have discussions about data ethics and data privacy,” she concluded.


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