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Extended reality, latest tech breakthrough for training

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In an environment in which it seems that new technologies are emerging at the speed of light, industry is faced with keeping up the breakneck pace of these operational advances and advantages.

This phenomenon is especially true with the adoption of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology. However, hot on AR and VR’s heels is extended reality (XR), which combines real and virtual environments utilizing computers, wearables and more, to gather and analyze data.

Paul Daley, senior eLearning specialist with ConocoPhillips, described his company’s progress in applying emergent technologies as having a “toe in the water.” The onset and rippling effect of COVID-19 didn’t help that progress.

“We’ve had a proof of concept that was planned out and had been building up through 2019. Then came 2020,” Daley recalled. “Nobody had any appetite to tell the boss it’s going to cost a lot of money to figure this out. So that proof of concept did not move forward.”

As COVID-19 has lessened, 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 there was a very extreme but practical ‘we’re going to drag around this trailer and show you what happens if you cut your fingers off’-type proposal.

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

Daley said that the company has chosen to implement an “off the shelf solution” to its VR and XR needs, “which was a way to bring down the development costs.”

In the ‘top, down’ solution, Daley said, the ConocoPhillips CIO who observed the advantages of VR “was able to write a check and get some development going.”

Not ‘all about the Benjamins’

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

Some of those challenges to introducing VR and XR, Daley said, “came down to bad timing. In those cases, the business has to get back to what it does, and 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 training mindset and still kind of scared to want to see that, for some reason,” Daley said. “You’ve got to move past that, and that can be a ‘baby steps’ kind of thing, because they want to take the multiple choice, get the checkmark and move on.”

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

“You can measure the force at which they are holding 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 of its structural design,” she said during the Industrial XR Global Summit, held recently in Houston.

Spark observed that learning management systems (LMS) are “a more than two decades old mindset,” and compared using LMS to installing a governor on a Formula One racecar.

“What you can measure in XR is so much more — to the point where we really have to be concerned about and have the discussion regarding data ethics and data privacy,” she concluded