Extended reality, latest tech breakthrough for training

In an environment where new technologies seem to be emerging at the speed of light, the industry is faced with the breakneck pace of keeping up with these advances and operational advantages.

This phenomenon is especially true with the adoption of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology. However, 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 e-learning specialist at ConocoPhillips, described his company’s progress in implementing emerging technologies as “a toe in the water.” The onset and ripple effect of COVID-19 did not help that progress.

“We have a proof of concept that was planned out and was ramping up during 2019. Then came 2020,” Daley recalled. “No one wanted to tell the manager that it would cost a lot of money to figure this out. So that proof of concept didn’t come through.”

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As COVID-19 has subsided, Daley said, things have changed.

“Efforts are underway to operate from the ‘top, down’ and ‘bottom, up,’ where ‘bottom, up’ was an existing training program to improve things,” he explained. Daley joked that there was something really big but practical ‘we’re going to pull around this trailer and show you what happens if you cut your fingers kind of proposal’.

“But they wanted to see if VR could make for a more meaningful experience, because everyone had already seen how to cut off their fingers in the last 10 years. This was a project that we really had to search around and find an economical 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 the development costs.”

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In the ‘top-down’ solution, Daley said, the ConocoPhillips CIO who noticed the benefits of VR “was able to write a check and get some development going.”

It’s not all about the Benjamins

There are several challenges in bringing emerging technologies into the field next to financial pressure.

Some of those challenges in introducing VR and XR, Daley said, “were bad timing. In those cases, the business has to return to what it does, and not to what it doesn’t do and, sometimes, it’s just learning” he said, laughing.

“We have this great technology and we want to use it. Even culturally, I would say, you’re training a mindset and you’re still afraid to try to see that, for some reason,” Daley said. “You have to go beyond that, and that might be ‘baby steps,’ because they want to take the multiple choice, get the check mark and move on.”

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In terms of safety, XR technology allows managers to ensure workers are properly completing tasks such as inspections, lockout/tagout and other responsibilities necessary for safety, said Susan Spark, Schlumberger’s XR technology learning technology manager.

“You can measure the force with which they are holding the tool to prevent it from bending; they make the right gesture with their hand, and much more. It’s a completely different mindset in terms of its structural design,” she said during the XR Industry Global Summit, held in Houston recently.

Spark noted that learning management systems (LMS) are a “twenty-plus-year-old mindset,” and compared using an LMS to installing a governor on a Formula One race car.

“What you can measure in XR is so much more – to the point where we have to worry about it and have the discussion around data ethics and data privacy,” she said.


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