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From Stantec ERA: The era of virtual and augmented reality in the energy industry

January 30, 2020

By Shane Goosney and Jason Carter

The use of virtual and augmented reality solutions provides experiential training and data-driven simulations in the Energy & Resources field

This article first appeared as “Virtual reality vs. artificial reality” in Stantec ERA, Issue 02.

The Energy and Resources sector, and in nearly every industry in fact, is undergoing a massive transformation in the wake of increasingly widespread adoption of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology. Its use can lead to improved communications, enhanced safety, more effective training, and increased efficiency, which in turn saves time and money.

The result? A technological revolution on a scale comparable to the invention of the computer that will permanently change the way we work.

VR/AR lenses can be attached to hardhats and used by onsite workers to scan their environments and display real-time data right in front of their eyes. 

Virtual reality vs. augmented reality—what’s the difference

Virtual reality replaces the real world with a simulation. VR headsets are designed to provide a totally immersive experience by blocking out your natural surroundings and manipulating your senses to transport you to a different environment.

VR headsets are designed to provide a totally immersive experience by blocking out your natural surroundings and manipulating your senses to transport you to a different environment.

Augmented reality (often used interchangeably with mixed reality) keeps you in the real world and brings virtual elements into your environment. This can be done in two different ways, through AR glasses or by using a smart device, both of which project a hologram that appears in the space.

It makes us better communicators

What would you find more useful and engaging: watching a lengthy PowerPoint presentation describing a proposed project with text and images, or putting on a VR headset to review an accurate visualization of the project’s end stage? The ability to, quite literally, see into the future of your project is an invaluable asset. Furthermore, you can utilize AR to send interactive, virtual 3D models to clients to facilitate real-time design reviews. The client would have the ability to spin the model 360 degrees, add comments, view specific data points, and more. This offers a fresh perspective on viewing complex data, eases the difficulties of working around language barriers, and leaves very little room for interpretation from a technical standpoint. From looking at the 3D model, everyone can tell exactly what it is and can see exactly where it needs to be improved.

This technology also can lead to improved community engagement. When explaining a complex project to stakeholders who have little-to-no technical knowledge of your industry, it can often be difficult for them to understand the details by looking at flat maps and 2D graphics. Providing them with a virtual experience not only leads to better understanding but can also generate a new level of interest by leveraging technology that people are both familiar with and enjoy using.

A virtual reality simulation can replicate potentially hazardous environments and situations, enabling employees to be trained entirely from the safety of an office.

It can lead to enhanced safety

Safety always comes first in the Energy and Resources sector, especially at mine sites where it’s a priority to mitigate hazards. The use of AR/VR has enormous potential to improve safety records.

A VR simulation can replicate a mine showing potentially hazardous environments and situations. Employees could then be trained on how to handle these incidents from the safety of an office. The system can be programmed to walk the employee through all the necessary steps for each specific situation, and if they skip a step, the system will prompt them to go back and try again. This same process can be used to train employees on how to operate heavy equipment before having to step foot out into the field. Studies have shown that immersive virtual learning experiences are entirely more memorable and effective than simply watching a training video.

Additionally, AR lenses can be attached to hardhats and used by onsite workers to scan their environments and display real-time data right in front of their eyes. This is especially useful in situations with limited visibility. The AR glasses can identify objects and potential hazards in front of the user or assist them in finding their way out of a mine or tunnel.

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By simply looking at a 3D model, everyone can tell exactly what the elements are and where improvements are necessary.

The technology is more accessible than you might think

There are several VR and AR devices in today’s market, spanning a large range of prices, that provide differing levels of immersion, graphics quality, and mobility. Of course, price and quality often go together, but it’s worth noting that prices will drop as this technology becomes more mainstream and as the market becomes saturated with competitors. In fact, some of the more high-end devices are already on a downward pricing trend.

Regarding ease of use, there is software available that can do most of the hard work for you, in terms of converting designs into 3D models. Essentially, you can upload a drawing into a software application and let the computer perform all the difficult rendering.

The ability to go more in-depth and add striking visuals or animations are also options.

Once this technology becomes integrated into your workflow and included as part of your budget, the cost becomes an afterthought compared to the value added. When you consider the savings resulting from reduced approval times, utilizing virtual models rather than sending employees and investors to the project site, and reducing the number of on-site accidents by conducting virtual trainings, it’s reasonable to say that VR/AR pays for itself in the long run.

The ability to, quite literally, see into the future of your project is an invaluable asset.

This technology is here to stay

The VR/AR revolution is not going to happen; it’s currently happening. Businesses around the world are already taking full advantage of this technology to improve the way people live and work. And this won’t be just a passing trend. The global VR/AR market is expected to be worth more than $94 billion by 2023. Most experts agree that it will become so mainstream that we will one day wonder how we ever got along without it, similarly to how we now view our smartphones.

Wondering how you can keep up with the latest trends? The simplest answer is to actively pay attention. Watch television, listen to the radio, talk to peers, scour the news to learn about the market. Also, don’t hesitate to look outside your own industry to discover innovative ways to use AR and VR. See what others are doing and tailor their practices to fit your needs. This technology is constantly evolving, and as it continues to find its footing in the world of energy and resources, the best time to begin familiarizing yourself with it and taking steps to incorporate it into your business is now; you may soon find that you can’t afford to wait.

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  • Shane Goosney

    A senior project specialist with a focus on digital tools such as animation, BIM, and 3D modeling, Shane has recently focused his 30 years of experience on integrating augmented and virtual reality in the mining sector.

    Contact Shane
  • Jason Carter

    Jason is a CAD Systems Specialist in Stantec’s Alberta South region. There, he’s responsible for providing CAD support needs for multiple design disciplines.

    Contact Jason
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