Extended reality, latest tech breakthrough for training

In an environment where new technologies seem to emerge at the speed of light, the industry is faced with keeping up with the rapid 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 extended 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 applying emerging technologies as having “a toe in the water.” The onset and ripple effect of COVID-19 did not help that progress.

“We had a proof of concept that was planned and was building until 2019. Then came 2020,” Daley recalled. “No one had any appetite to tell the boss that it was going to cost a lot of money to figure this out. So that proof of concept didn’t move forward.”

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

“There have been efforts operating from the ‘top, down’ and the ‘bottom, up’, where the ‘bottom, up’ was an existing training program to improve things,” he explained. Daley joked that it was a very extreme but practical “we’ll drag this trailer and show you what happens if you cut off your fingers” type proposition.

“But they wanted to see if VR could make for a more memorable experience, because everyone had already seen how to hack their fingers off over the last 10 years. This was a project that we really had to shop around and figure out an economical way to do it.”

Daley said the company chose to implement an “exemplary solution” to its VR and XR needs, “which was a way to keep development costs down.”

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In the “top, bottom” solution, said Daley, the CIO of ConocoPhillips, who observed the benefits of VR, “could write control and develop a little.”

Not “all about the benjamins”

There are a number of challenges to successfully bringing emerging technologies into the field alongside financial pressure.

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

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

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When it comes to safety, XR technology allows managers to ensure that workers have properly completed tasks such as inspections, lockout/tagout and other responsibilities that are essential to safety, said Susan Spark, learning technology manager with Schlumberger, XR technology.

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

Spark observed that learning management systems (LMS) are “more than a two-decade-old mindset,” and compared using an LMS to installing a governor on a Formula 1 race car.

“What you can measure in XR is so much more — to the point where we really have to care and discuss data ethics and data privacy,” she concluded.


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