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Infrastructure and Operations

Shell Revamps Remote Operations with Augmented Reality Helmet

AR wearable device connects workers in the field with operations experts back in the office through hands-free hard hat

Royal Dutch Shell plans to connect its frontline field workers with back office expertise through the use of a new augmented reality (AR) hard hat. The hands-free AR wearable comes with a built-in computer that’s voice-controlled and equipped with a micro-display and a camera. This makes it possible for Shell’s workers in the field to send pictures and video back to the office in real-time and receive over-the-shoulder assistance from remote operations experts when making repairs and doing work on sensitive equipment around the globe.

Shell teamed up with Honeywell to deploy these helmets from RealWear, which are the first wearable device certified to operate in hazardous conditions where explosive gases are present. The oil and gas giant has already field tested the devices and will now roll them out to 24 operational sites around the world.

“Just as laptops and mobile phones are standard for desk workers, voice command and augmented reality for wearable computers will become commonplace for field staff in our industry, driving safety and productivity,” says Michael Kaldenbach, lead for Shell Digital Realities, a center of excellence for the company that focuses on AR, virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR).

The move marks another step in Shell’s journey to fold in AR, VR, and MR into operational and training environments through its Digital Realities group. Last fall the firm announced it was working with EON Reality to develop a global immersive training program that can be scaled across numerous industrial facilities. Developing an immersive training platform makes it possible for Shell to use ‘digital twins’ to recreate any training environment and put it in a module that can be offered on-demand and in numerous languages. This breaks down a lot of training barriers that enterprises like Shell face in training a global workforce operating in very exacting technical environments.

“Operational training lends itself well for virtual reality,” Kaldenbach said at the time. ““Shell is on a digital transformation journey. AR/VR is a key linking technology in that helps us visualize data and environments and make them tangible for our operational staff.”

According to estimates from analysis at Statista, the worldwide market for AR and VR is expected to grow from a projected $20.4 billion this year to $192.7 billion by 2022. According to the recent 2019 Augmented and Virtual Reality Survey Report from Perkins Coie, startup investors are bullish on the prospects of extended reality technologies. Around 90 percent of them think AR, VR, and XR technology will be as ubiquitous as mobile devices by 2025. They rank manufacturing and industrial applications like those Shell uses AR for to be the fourth most relevant environment for extended reality to take off, behind gaming, healthcare and medical devices, and education.

Meantime, experts with Accenture Labs say that extended reality technology “will be critical to the enterprise of the future.” They say that applications like Shell will act as the spear tip for greater extended reality usage across all industries in the near future.

“Indeed, industries with high-risk working environments, such as energy, manufacturing or construction, are already reaping the benefits of immersive learning,” an Accenture Labs report detailed. “Now, other industries are exploring the space.”

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