A virtual game-changer

How do you equip employees to understand and prepare for the challenges presented working on a subsea structure thousands of metres below sea level? It’s one of a number of questions Wood Group is tackling by marrying blue sky thinking with our strong innovative expertise and real-world experience.

One way that we are exploring new approaches to current challenges is by enhancing employee training using our Virtual Reality (VR) capability. This provides what is quite literally an immersive experience by taking our people into typically remote and inaccessible environments by simply pulling on a headset.

Our journey into VR stemmed from a desire to think differently around traditional engineering software products and the resulting capability enables our people and our clients to experience being fully immersed in diverse and complex locations, without the exposure and risk of the real-world situation.

“The key advantage of VR is that users can learn in a controlled, safe, cost efficient setting, repeating the experience as often as required. When you think about the many ways this can be applied in our increasingly challenging business climate, it is clear that the adoption of VR technology enables Wood Group to drive efficiencies head on,” explains Kieran Coughlan, a software architect working in digital solutions at Wood Group

Kieran was one of the team whose inspired thinking led to the development of this innovative technical solution. His weekends spent volunteering for CoderDojo, a global network of free, community-based programming clubs where young people from ages 7 to 17 can learn to code, build a website and create an app or game, generated the spark for this idea.

He comments: “When showing the kids how to write software and create computer games to a high standard, I started to think on how we could bring this technology into our business.

“After experimenting with a VR headset and a gaming PC, it became apparent that there is considerable expertise within Wood Group to programme and build new solutions that are game-changing in terms of how engineers can immerse themselves in a subsea scene for example, quickly and cost effectively.”

Stephen Murphy, senior manager in engineering and visualisation, worked with the team to bring a static 3D object to life in the first development of the software.

He explains: “VR has been around for many years and its use is well-established by the US military and NASA. It’s only in the last five years that it has shown commercial promise across many sectors including engineering, medicine and retail. It’s now on the verge of being consumer ready – with mobile manufacturers scrambling to release VR-ready smartphones.

“Using our in-house gaming graphics and programming skills, we were quickly able to build a realistic subsea environment. We added detailed elements such as valves opening, vibrational feedback when the valves rotated, not to mention the ROV hovering overhead and shoals of fish dashing around.”

This first project provided the team with an opportunity to demonstrate how this technology could be applied to the oil and gas industry and specifically form part of Wood Group’s offering in safety, training, design, operations and decommissioning.

Stephen continues: “We began to explore further into augmented reality (AR) which superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world – thus providing a multi-layered view. Without a doubt, VR and AR will be commonplace in many industries in the coming years, and Wood Group has begun its journey into these new technologies.”

For Offshore Europe 2017, the team has developed various VR environments that will allow users to virtually step into different parts of Wood Group’s business including subsea, digital solutions, decommissioning, clean energy, automation, industrial services, safety and solutions across the full asset life-cycle.

The team has already delivered a safety focused project for an operator in Africa and is looking to the next phase of VR capabilities including point cloud applications and further research and development into AR.

Stephen adds: “Our engineering and software expertise has been combined to deliver an immersive environment which can address key safety, assessment and integrity issues and enhance the delivery of training and learning programmes.”

For more information, visit our virtual reality page here.