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October 9, 2019

Q&A: Fieldbit discuss augmented reality in the offshore industry

Augmented reality (AR) has found a natural home in the oil and gas industry, with AR headsets and communications technology offering huge benefits in the field of offshore asset management. Julian Turner talks to Fieldbit founder and CEO Evyatar Meiron about the latest AR technology applications.

Evyatar Meiron is the founder and CEO of Fieldbit, which develops software that enables remote experts to send precise visual instructions to field technicians using real-time AR. Previously, he co-founded investment consultancy Greenstar and software company Hashavshevet.

Julian Turner (JT): What is augmented reality?

Evyatar Meiron (EM): There are several different types of augmented reality technologies, starting with the very basic form, which is what most people are familiar as a result of playing games such as Pokemon Go. The AR behind this is location-based and uses GPS to show the user digital information based on their physical location and the direction in which they point their smartphone camera.

Marker-based AR is a little more advanced and requires the user to point their camera at an object, or marker that can be recognised by the camera and which activates the AR, generating a 3D image.

The third category is known as markerless AR – the technology we employ at Fieldbit – when the camera points to an object that is contained in the software library. Suddenly, the digital information is projected on the device itself on top of the image. For this, you don’t need a marker, just to point the camera at the physical element – the software already has the picture.

However, this doesn’t work in a three-dimensional environment and AR was developed to be a 3D solution. This leads us to the fourth and most sophisticated form of AR, which is based on a software engine that uses SLAM – simultaneous localisation and mapping. This type of AR really understands the environment – so, for example, when you input digital information on a table, and you go out of the room and come back, you will see digital information on the table as if it had been there all the time. This is the most advanced type of AR available today and it is the type we are using at Fieldbit.

JT: Why did you set up Fieldbit and what types of companies does it serve?

EM: We started Fieldbit when the new generation of AR smart glasses first came to the market. AR had existed for many years before then, but we knew that this step forward would be very important in terms of improving field services for the workforce in multiple business sectors.

Only when augmented smart glasses entered the market could industry use augmented reality in a commercial environment. The first thing we did was talk to different customers and ask them exactly how this technology could be used in their sector, and what would be a useful new product based on smart glasses and AR.

Through a process of elimination, we found that companies or operators of remote offshore assets costing between $100,000 and $1m would be the ideal first type of customers for us in terms of providing field services for these types of machines and equipment. These types of companies really need a solution in order to have data and knowledge in one centralised system based on AR.

JT: What specific benefits does Fieldbit AR technology offer oil and gas operators?

EM: We are developing a form of AR that fits very well into the offshore market, because in this sector you have a variety of different types of equipment located in very complicated environments.

Technicians and operators of equipment such as engines, valves or pumps – anything that has a measurable digital value such as temperature or pressure – need to understand that data, not by picking up a phone and speaking to someone in an operations room, but by actually seeing the information they require in front of their eyes. This can be applied to hundreds of thousands of values that exist on an offshore rig and it is this type of information that Fieldbit can provide.

All personnel can then access the data using the Fieldbit app, sharing information and knowledge that until now existed only in the control room or was accessible by very few people. This is very beneficial on an oil rig, because only a limited amount of people work in that type of environment.

JT: How do Fieldbit solutions help to improve offshore service, maintenance and repair?

EM: Safety is paramount in the offshore market space. Fieldbit’s AR applications make safety a reality by allowing personnel to make decisions using a single device. Operators and technicians comply with safety protocols and that compliance is recorded so there is electronic evidence.

Technicians, especially those new to the job, may require maintenance support. Fieldbit AR gives them the option of contacting a remote expert, who can use live video to instruct the technician and send them annotations that they can see on their device as if they were projected on the equipment itself. AR offers something new and different compared with apps such FaceTime or WhatsApp.

JT: How does AR save oil and gas companies money and maximise efficiency?

EM: Onshore oil and gas companies, for example, often send technicians to carry out checks at individual sites, which is inefficient and expensive because all that time no oil was being produced.

Using Fieldbit, once a problem has been identified, the technician who is nearby – providing he/she has the Fieldbit app – can be sent to solve the problem quickly, either by consulting the knowledge database to see how similar issues have been resolved or by remotely contacting an expert.

In addition, when a technician is sent to very complicated environment, an offshore rig or a refinery, for instance, a key challenge when they first arrive is to become orientated in order to locate the faulty device or equipment. Using the Fieldbit app allows them to do that quickly and efficiently.

Our customers encompass users, owners and manufacturers of offshore equipment. The cost of sending one technician to solve one problem for one customer is estimated at 300–$400 per visit. Say the company employs 100 technicians and each one is visiting four or five locations every day –using Fieldbit to save just one site visit a week potentially translates to a saving of $1.5m.

JT: What innovations can we expect to see in the field of AR in the short to mid-term?

EM: Fieldbit is the only company that currently offers the most advanced new technology; namely, the ability for the camera to display the equipment environment on an offshore oil or gas rig in its entirety.

Providing the right information to the technician at the right time is very different to anything else that exists in the AR market today – and is the future that everyone in the industry has been looking for in the past two to three years.

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