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Multiple VR a real-time reality

November 20, 2002, 00:00 CET

The girl in goggles wielding a wand before Harry Potter's looming likeness is not playing the latest interactive game by Nintendo.

Hydro geophysicist Elisabeth Skoglund was taking part in the first real-time virtual reality (VR) link this week between Hydro Exploration and Production International sites in Oslo, Bergen and Houston, Texas.

Virtually flawless

"It's our first successful three-way test," said elated Hydro geophysicist Rolf Helland, who launched into an off-key rendition of "Singing in the rain" over a loudspeaker in sunny Houston to taunt colleagues in rainy Bergen.

"Houston, I think we have a problem," retorted Bergen-based colleague Trond Andersen.

Developed jointly by Hydro and Bergen-based Christian Michelsen Research (CMR), the VR technology - known internally as "Cave" - allows drilling engineers, geophysicists and geologists to study oil reservoirs through a virtual reality model based on seismic images. Wearing 3D glasses they can simply walk into the field, and look more closely at the various layers of oil, gas and water.

Helland and Mons Midttun played key roles developing the VR project at Hydro. Christopher Giertsen was project manager at CMR. The R&D project is now headed by Bergen-based Hydro geophysicist Jens Grimsgaard.

Virtually together

"The main thing is how we use it together, the collaboration of different disciplines, several eyes seeing the same problem," mused Helland. "Remote collaboration gives the international offices the opportunity to access home-based experts and teams and evaluate prospects together in real-time. An additional benefit is of course reduced travel time, since we now can work virtually together any time we want."

The only disadvantage is getting up earlier and working later to accomodate time differences, quipped Grimsgaard.

Virtually no time

The Cave dramatically diminishes time used on well planning.

"We've had enormous success in our operational units," remarked Andersen. "What used to take two to three weeks can be done now in two to three days, sometimes just a day."

VR's application on the Oseberg field in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea is documented as having saved 100 days on the planning of eight wells, increasing production by some 5.2 million barrels of oil and boosting revenues by USD 86 million (based on USD 16.5 per barrel). The Cave has also been used extensively on the Troll field.

"We'll soon use it to evaluate 2D seismic for the first time on a field in Libya," said Skoglund.

Virtually global

Commercial rights to the Cave were sold earlier this year to Schlumberger Information Solutions, which now markets the technology worldwide under the moniker "Inside Reality." The deal marks the first commercialization of an interactive VR system combining seismic, reservoir engineering, drilling and well-planning capabilities.

"It's very clear Hydro is one of the most important sources of VR technology," commented Schlumberger Information Solutions (SIS) president Ihab Toma, who added his company also employs Inside Reality as a recruiting tool.

"We recently used it on a recruiting trip. It really gets the students excited. It not only entices them to join Schlumberger, but brings more young people into the oil industry. It changes the perception of the industry as low tech into cutting edge." Part of the reason is "the fun it brings to the workplace."

Both Midttun and Giertsen are now part of SIS. Helland is part of the geophysical team at Hydro EPI's Gulf of Mexico office in Houston, managed by Hydro senior vice president Helge Haldorsen.

Virtually human

"Is Harry Potter in the room yet?" Andersen asked Skoglund while fine-tuning the three-way hook up from Bergen. He was referring to the avatar resembling the young apprentice wizard that represents distant participants during VR sessions. The spectre is comprised of a large round head wearing glasses and an arm equipped with a pointer.

"Maybe we'll have an avatar library in the future, so each collaborator can have their own personal, recognizable identity," said Grimsgaard, adding it's technically possible to put facial photos of actual participants on the avatars to personify participants.

Virtually everywhere

Hydro is also developing a desktop version of Cave to permit collaboration in far-flung locations lacking access to specially-equipped VR rooms.

"The advantage is remote collaboration in, say, Angola where they don't have Cave access," Grimsgaard said, adding the PC-based program should be functional by January 2003. Caves are presently installed at seven sites in Norway and one in Houston.

Hydro is expanding its use of VR into new fields, including virtual geology, marine operations, rig design, gas explosion simulation and production simulation.

"When we started in 97, it was pretty much a blue sky endeavor... we didn't know where we were going," Helland remarked. "We're now finding out VR's possibilities are endless."