A highly positive initial reaction to Google Glass from the oil & gas industry…and some skepticism too

Just under a week ago, I posted online what I think is the first video of an oil & gas specific application of Google Glass.  So far, the reception has been awesome, and FuelFix even expanded on my Google Glass posts by contributing a summary article on my thoughts towards to the technology.

Surprisingly, even within the oil & gas industry many professionals sometimes bemoan a certain slowness in adapting new technologies to the oilfield, especially ones that come from the consumer space.  I say this is surprising because the oil & gas industry is EXTREMELY high-tech, and yet getting big oil companies to adopt iPhones (officially) took some time…

I shouldn’t have been surprised then that, despite the highly positive response I received towards my efforts, there were some skeptical comments, most revolving around the possibility of even taking Glass out into the field.  Today still, cell phones for instance aren’t allowed in certain field areas:  there would be catastrophic HSE (Health, Safety, Environment) consequences if a signal accidentally triggered a piece of equipment like a wireline gun.

People also commented on the robustness, or lack thereof, of the device.  On that front, I completely agree, and even I don’t take it out of my house for fear of dropping it!

As I was thinking about this skepticism, it hit me as to why the industry can seem slow when it comes to adopting technologies which seem to have clear applications in the field, and for which there is a strong pull from professionals in the business:  safety and practicality in the field.

In the case of a new consumer device, a manufacturing company has to account for some minor drops onto pavement, maybe a small volume of water, but generally the “extreme” use cases aren’t particularly extreme, and the consequences aren’t particularly catastrophic.  In the oil & gas industry though, consequences can be fatal, so there is a process for everything.  Really, there HAS to be a process for everything because operations are so complex and consequences so potentially disastrous that it’s necessary to engineer out uncertainty as much as possible.

If there are people now currently expressing some hesitation towards Glass (or similar, wearable technology) applied to the field, I see this more as a concern for their safety and that of their colleagues, rather than some inherent aversion to trying new products and ideas.

Here’s the thing though:  while the solutions to these problems (interference with other equipment, sturdiness in the field) may end up being very tricky, the problem definitions are pretty clear.  All one would have to do is consult the standards for equipment to be allowed in certain areas where a field engineer might take it, and alter the device accordingly to meet those standards.

I am convinced that those issues, while important, are peripheral, and some person or group will step up to address them provided the industry sees the bigger picture of how this technology can be applied.  To me, that’s the really tricky part:  finding a use case in the industry that makes people say “I have to have that”.

Let’s remember that currently, Google is looking to target consumers generally, so not only is this device still just technically a prototype, it has not been designed in any way to meet specifically any one industry’s safety requirements, and in fact it’s outsourcing the use cases to Google Explorers that can best figure out how to benefit from Glass!

For that reason, you will see me for the moment focus more on applications of this technology rather than the problems that will inevitably arise with trying to insert new technology into an field that already has very established processes.  I want to generate interest, and then the solutions to these other (highly valid) problems will come about.

Yes,  Glass looks awkward (now), and yes, it may not be as strong as most people would like (now), and no it may be ready for introduction onto a rig site (now).

Despite its flaws, when I see Glass, I see the future.  Not only am I thrilled that I am able in some way to shape how this technology is applied to the oil & gas industry, I am also confident that this very high-tech business will eventually come around to the great benefits of Glass and all the possibilities it can offer once properly harnessed and understood.





About The Author

David Vaucher is a director in the energy practice of management consulting firm Alvarez and Marsal. He is also a past editor-in-chief of "The Way Ahead" magazine, the Society of Petroleum Engineers' official publication for young professionals in the oil and gas industry. The views here are solely his own.