This week’s Pipeliners Podcast episode features Geoff Isbell and Dr. Matt Joiner of Energy Worldnet (EWN) discussing the value of training that delivers an authentic experience using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).
In this episode, you will learn about why you should be interested in the capabilities of VR and AR training in the oil and gas industry, the challenges of using this technology to deliver meaningful training, and how to create training using VR and AR.
Training That Delivers Experience: Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms
- Geoff Isbell is President of Energy Worldnet, where he is engaged in developing and delivering strategic solutions for technology platforms, workforce development, safety, and compliance management. Connect with Geoff on LinkedIn.
- Dr. Matt Joiner is Vice President of Education at Energy Worldnet. Connect with Matt on LinkedIn.
- Energy Worldnet (EWN) delivers real solutions for Operator Qualification, Workforce and Data Management, Safety and OSHA Training, Compliance Services, and PSMS for the Pipeline industry.
- EWN is the current sponsor of the Pipeliners Podcast. Listen to this month’s episodes sponsored by EWN.
- Learn more about EWN training programs, development resources, and technology at energyworldnet.com.
- Virtual Reality (VR) is a simulated experience that can be similar to or completely different from the real world.
- Augmented Reality (AR) is an interactive experience of the real-world environment where objects that reside in the real world are enhanced by computer-generated perceptual information.
- OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) is an agency in the United States Department of Labor. Their mission is to “assure safe and healthy working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance.”
- AOCs (Abnormal Operating Condition) is defined by the 49 CFR Subpart 195.503 and 192.803 as a condition identified by a pipeline operator that may indicate a malfunction of a component or deviation from normal operations that may indicate a condition exceeding design limits or result in a hazard(s) to persons, property, or the environment.
- Oculus Quest is a virtual reality headset created by Oculus VR, a division of Facebook Inc. While the device is fully standalone, it can also be plugged into a computer via a USB cable to play games that haven’t been ported to it.
- US Airways Flight 1549 refers to the January 15, 2009 incident where an Airbus A320 struck a flock of geese less than five miles northwest of New York City’s LaGuardia Airport and consequently lost all engine power. Unable to reach any airport, pilots Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles glided the plane to a ditch in the Hudson River off Midtown Manhattan.
- Snapdragon is a family of mobile System on a Chip (SoC) made by Qualcomm for use in many different devices.
Training That Delivers Experience: Full Episode Transcript
Russel Treat: Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast, episode 129, sponsored by Energy Worldnet, a worldwide service provider to the oil and gas industry, making the world safer by providing pipeline operators and contractors, innovative solutions for operator qualification, safety training, content authoring, and guidance as pipelines operate in compliance with PHMSA, OSHA, and other regulatory requirements. To learn more about Energy Worldnet, visit energyworldnet.com.
Announcer: The Pipeliners Podcast, where professionals, Bubba geeks, and industry insiders share their knowledge and experience about technology, projects, and pipeline operations. Now, your host, Russel Treat.
Russel: Thanks for listening to the Pipeliners Podcast. I appreciate you taking the time, and to show that appreciation, we give away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener each episode. This week our winner is Greg Key with Burns & McDonnell. To learn how you can win this signature prize pack, stick around ‘til the end of the episode.
This week, Geoff Isbell and Dr. Matt Joiner with Energy Worldnet join us to talk about training that delivers experience by using virtual reality and augmented reality. Let’s peg the geek meter and get on with it. Geoff, welcome back, and Matt, welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast.
Geoff Isbell: Thank you, Russel, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Dr. Matt Joiner: Thank you, Russel. Proud to be with you guys today.
Russel: This is a juicy conversation because I think we’re going to get to peg the geek-o-meter, and I’m excited about that. Before we go there, let me ask you guys each to do a brief introduction so the listener can get your background and such. Geoff, I’ll ask you to go first.
Geoff: Sure. Thank you. My name is Geoff Isbell, and I am president of Energy Worldnet. I’ve been with Energy Worldnet for about 14 years now. My background is really about 10 plus years in finance and banking regulation that then merged over into a technology world where I dealt with both the finance world and energy.
That was my first encounter in the energy industry with some technology solutions for some large corporations.
A little bit later in life after going through some other things with my own business, then I joined Energy Worldnet. Probably two-thirds of my career has really been wrapped up around technology-related activities, so this will be a fun conversation today.
Russel: I agree. Matt, same question. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into pipelining.
Dr. Joiner: Yes, sir. Came to Energy Worldnet about two years ago. Prior to that, I was an administrator in higher education.
I spent about 12 years doing that, primarily in the general education field, history, government, English, math, those kinds of things. Did start a nursing program, registered nursing, and cosmetology, believe it or not. Prior to that, I was a classroom teacher. Have been vice president of education here, like I said, going on two years.
Russel: Matt, do you have a background in courseware offering? Would you say that’s part of your experience and background?
Dr. Joiner: Define courseware offering for me.
Russel: Defining what in order to create a competency, here are the things you need to be able to demonstrate, and then here are the things we need to do to equip you to be able to demonstrate those competencies.
Dr. Joiner: Absolutely. Yes, sir. A lot of what I did in higher education was definitely down that path.
Russel: I think that’s one of the things that people that don’t know about training really don’t understand just how big of a job that is.
Dr. Joiner: Yes, sir. Lots involved in making that happen and making sure that the activities that we create for the learner are ones that are going to get them past the finish line and get the knowledge transferred.
Russel: That’s a great tee-up.
Geoff: It’s something that I’ll add in on, which is one of the things that we’ve learned is that there’s a distinction between how you create an instructor-led course versus computer-based training versus now virtual reality.
Russel: That’s a great segue. Thank you for that, Geoff. Let’s start out with what is VR, and why should I care.
Geoff: I’ll jump on that first, and then Matt can add his perception of it. Virtual reality, many people probably know that from a game standpoint, game playing, and whatnot. Anything that is a virtual reality is really about blocking out the outside world and immersing the user in some kind of experience.
Whether it’s just playing games and having fun, or it’s a collaboration, or it’s a learning experience, you’re really doing it in an artificial environment, an artificial world, where there is no real exposure to the outside real world. Through a head-mounted display, you get very focused on the environment that you’re working in.
Whereas when we move into things like augmented reality, then that’s very much more about the physical world, where you can still see and experience the things around you, but you begin to have a digital input or overlay of information that the user can experience along with what they see in their surroundings.
Russel: One of the key questions I wanted to ask — this is probably directed more to Matt — is “What are the unique challenges of using this cool technology to actually deliver meaningful training?”
Dr. Joiner: Probably the most important thing that we can talk about with any activity, whether it’s computer-based or instructor-led, as Geoff mentioned, is that immersion factor, that engagement factor.
Whatever we’re doing, how can we make sure that the learner is actually engaged in a meaningful learning opportunity that makes it possible for them to refine skills, build new skills, those kinds of things?
Russel: How do you go about doing that? On the surface of it, that sounds straightforward enough, but I wouldn’t even know how to start.
Dr. Joiner: A lot of that comes from talking to people, talking to clients, talking to people in the industry, about what challenges they’re facing from a training standpoint. What do they need more training in that perhaps is cost-ineffective to do routinely because of materials or geography or any of those limitations there?
Talking to them and then doing our very best in everything we do to create those opportunities so that they can engage in those in a safe environment. That’s the power of virtual reality and extended reality, is that we can expose them to maybe things that might not be as safe if they were doing them in real life.
Russel: That makes perfect sense. Let’s talk a little bit about the technology. Everybody probably has a notional idea about what virtual reality is. If I’m creating training, what are the things I’m doing to actually create that training? How do I actually make the technology do what it does?
Geoff: That’s a great question. Really, it starts with stuff that’s been around for quite some time. If you think about game development and the fact that video games have been around for a long time, you have to create a lot of art and imagery, both the background and the environment which a user may move through, as well as each physical object that that individual is going to interact with.
When we look at developing content, as Matt knows, it all starts with the learning content itself, what do you want to accomplish through the learning. That part really doesn’t change as we look at different methods of training and the learning environment. You still have to have an outline for what do you want to accomplish.
The big change really comes in that immersion factor. Especially if you’re in a virtual reality situation, how do you get that individual to feel like they are truly in that environment and they begin to act the way that they would normally act and it’s automatic? That way, you can really gauge behavior and skill level.
That really becomes an important part of the technology development, which is creating an environment that people believe or at least can associate with being close to reality. The better they do that, the better the technology is and the creation of that content, then the more immersed an employee becomes.
Really, it’s quite fun as you get into it because you can forget that you’re in there. Heights and ledges and corners and things of that nature. You have a tendency to want to lean against things that don’t really exist. You have to have some safety factors built in.
Or you’re hesitant to take the step across a virtual drop off, even though the ground is still level right in front of you in real life. You forget that because your mind believes that you’re actually somewhere else.
Russel: Have you actually had somebody try to lean against a wall and fall down…
Russel: …while they were running your stuff? I have to ask this question. You might, on advice of counsel, not be able to answer this question, but I have to ask.
Geoff: Actually, I’ve done it myself.
Geoff: The more that you get into it, especially in a lot of gaming…There’s a whole story behind that, how we got into this and at least my own personal experience in it. Again, that is one of the very important factors of how you develop the content, so that you don’t do that.
In our content that we’ve been developing and what others have done, you try to be very careful not to create a situation where they’re going to want to do that, or with some of the advances in the technology, now there’s a whole new safety factor that we can talk about in a minute, that eliminates the probability of that happening.
I am pleased to say that we have absolutely zero OSHA reportables coming from VR participation.
Dr. Joiner: I will say it’s been funny to me to watch as we’re beta testing and piloting a lot of this internally. We have had one of our employees, who we traditionally put her in that environment to make sure. If this is not going to make her sick, we’re going to be okay.
Russel: I’m sure that’s a thing, too. It’s interesting. Anytime you deal with a new technology, you always learn things that were unanticipated. The minute you learn them, you’re like, “Oh, well that makes perfect sense.”
The whole idea about if I’m really good at making the experience immersive, then the desire to sit down on a bench or lean against a wall or something like that is going to be there. The minute you figure that out, you’re like, “Oh yeah. Okay, that makes perfect sense.”
Geoff: You can play that to your advantage. Obviously, augmented reality is different because you see your world around you. In a virtual reality sense, there’s another factor called mixed reality.
That can play in two different ways. One is that you’re in that very immersive virtual environment that’s closed off from the outside world, but you are dealing with some tangible objects that are handed to you, that you can interact with.
You see them on the screen. Physically, you have to follow along and do whatever you need to do with that particular object. We incorporated that into our very first training that we did on fire extinguishers.
Conversely, you can do the opposite, which is using more of the augmented reality environment, where you see the world around you. You can create events or situations or risks or hazards or things of that nature that don’t really exist, such as a fire, but they do in a digital sense that’s superimposed onto the real world around you.
Russel: You think about this. If you’ve ever been to one of the Disney theme parks that does these kinds of experiential things, they’re masters of that, of actually having the full sensory experience of being in something, with the wind and the rain and all that type of thing.
Geoff: [laughs] We had fun with that when we were developing the fire extinguisher training for Mayra Maese. She had the headset on and was putting out a fire with a fire extinguisher. She didn’t know it, but we actually had some heat lamps handy.
As she got closer to the virtual fire to put it out with a real-life fire extinguisher that just simply didn’t have the propellant, expellant, in it, we turned on the heat lamps. She didn’t know it. As she got closer, she said, “Wow. I actually feel like I’m getting hotter.”
Geoff: She really was, but she didn’t realize that that was a little trick we were playing.
Dr. Joiner: There’s actually a movie theater, here in the DFW metroplex, who has a virtual reality/extended reality experience that you can go to, that does have all of the things that you’re talking about, whether it’s heat or wind or even rain. It is a very, very powerful experience to engage in.
We actually took our education team over there for one of our team building events. It was a great experience to see what’s out there and what might be in our future.
Russel: That’s a really interesting conversation, in terms of when you start thinking about where this could go. Before we go there, what I’d like to do is to explore a little bit more. Can you tell me about what are some of the other things you’ve actually been able to do effectively with this technology from a training perspective?
Dr. Joiner: Geoff talked about the fire extinguisher training that we have done here at EWN. We chose that particular area because it’s pretty universal throughout all of our industries that we serve, something that everybody could benefit from.
We’ve routinely conducted events in our community. That’s been particularly powerful, to put a fire extinguisher in the hands of an educator who may be a veteran classroom teacher. They’ve had that fire extinguisher outside their door for all those years, but they’ve never had the opportunity to pick it up and pull a pin and sense what it really would be like if an emergency were to occur.
That’s a really powerful thing that we’ve done with fire extinguisher. Geoff may want to take the abnormal operating conditions. That’s been another really powerful module that we’ve developed.
Russel: I’d very much like to hear about that. Just overall in the pipeline industry, getting people real experience with AOCs is a huge, huge thing.
Dr. Joiner: Yes, sir.
Geoff: That was one of the very first things we were thinking about. Using virtual reality of any form as a training tool, you really need to take advantage of the specific benefits of that technology and what can you do in this environment that you can’t do it a traditional training environment.
One of the things that we thought about was abnormal operating conditions. The regulations require, plus it’s just a good safety requirement, is that folks that are working on pipeline or pipeline facilities can recognize and properly react to an abnormal operating condition.
Historically, how we’ve dealt with that in the industry is it’s a question or a series of questions. Tell me, what is an AOC? Tell me, what kind of AOCs you would likely encounter in this kind of environment or during this kind of activity? What would you do if you encountered that?
That’s really a knowledge-based process. The question is skill and ability. Do you really know what to do? Would you do it? Can you physically recognize it? Would you be able to identify one item from another as being an AOC or not?
We decided that AOCs was a great way to leverage the power of virtual reality by putting people in a situation where they didn’t know exactly what they would see. They just knew that they needed to do, say, a pipeline survey or along a right-of-way or something of that nature.
In the due course of doing that, they’re doing the reports. They’re monitoring those things. They might encounter corrosion or evidence or signs of a gas leak or a malfunctioned device or a security breach, something that should be under a lock that’s not or an encroachment activity, or any number of other items like that.
As the user goes through this experience, they have to really look at their environment, identify if things are the way they’re supposed to be in a normal operation, or if there are areas of concern that are indicative of an abnormal operating condition. Then, what do they do with that in terms of identification and reporting it so that someone can follow up or actually call their supervisor and make a report of it or call 911? Because it creates an actual emergency condition versus just simply an AOC.
Now you’re able to introduce the elements of skill and ability and actually test that out. We’re no longer just assuming that you know because you can be trained on the appropriate answer. You’ve actually physically demonstrated your ability to recognize and react to those type of safety concerns.
Russel: It’s interesting when you talk about this. The other thing I’m thinking about as you’re going through these examples, I’m thinking about situations where maybe I’m the first pipeliner coming up on an emergency. I’m going to start interacting with these third parties. I could see where VR could be really effective in that kind of thing because I can actually create…
It’s one thing to know intellectually what to do. It’s another thing to be able to do it in the moment when you’re in the midst of the adrenaline and everything else that happens in a situation like that. I could see where this kind of technology could be very powerful about actually equipping people with some of the experience so that they’re more clear-headed in the actual situation.
Geoff: Absolutely. That’s the real value that we see in it, is the opportunity to experience that and to sense those type of concerns or the speed in which they need to react. These are all things that can be measured. Because you can track the metrics or performance in the virtual environment, then you can go back later and look at the composite of how people perform to find out.
Did they go where they needed to go? Did they look where they need to look? Did they respond in the way that they needed to? Or did they go do something else first and therefore potentially miss a critical moment in the process?
Some of the partners that we’ve worked with and folks in the industry that specifically build content have in fact developed some VR related content for natural gas leak emergency response or gas meter inspection or inside gas leak investigation, as well as other things, everywhere from line locating and marking, pipeline patrolling, fall protection, general occupational safety.
There’s really a benefit to being able to bring safety-related training, in a very physical sense, a very safe physical sense, to learners at any level, whether they’re brand new to the industry or they have years of experience.
Dr. Joiner: I agree, Geoff. One of the favorite examples of mine, although it’s not in our particular industry, but many of your listeners, I’m sure, will remember Sully Sullenberger and the miracle that happened on the Hudson, outside New York City.
He, upon being interviewed after that particular event, attributed the success of that particular landing to his training and the amount of time that he had spent engaged in on the job training in a virtual environment that made it possible for him to simply react.
He didn’t really even need to think because his training kicked in. He was doing what he knew to do. All those folks are safe because of that. That’s what we’re working to bring to our industry as well.
Russel: Matt, that is such a great example. I’ve used that example myself. You think about an airline pilot. You tend to think of them as a bus driver. You’re not paying that guy to drive the bus. What you’re doing is you’re paying that guy to land the aircraft craft safely in the midst of an emergency.
Dr. Joiner: Yes, sir.
Russel: Those guys actually have lots of experience doing that, just not in actual aircraft, because of what they can do with simulators. Being a guy that was in the Air Force and having seen simulators that were used starting back in the ’70s and knowing what’s available now, we’ve come a long way, baby, in that domain. It raises the question of what’s next.
Geoff: There is a lot of really great things that are coming along. Some of it’s already out there. It’s just slowly evolving in terms of the quality. As in all things, as new technology comes out, it’s a price point. Then it gets to the point where it’s working better, and it also becomes much more affordable.
The headsets themselves, one of the great things about them is that they’re increasing in the quality and the flexibility of how you can use them. The price points are coming down on that.
They’re moving from a wired unit that is corded to a high-end, gaming-type PC to being wireless and really a standalone unit where all you need to do is put on the headset, have a couple of controllers. You’re ready to go with VR. That is already out there. That’s something that we really like, with the Oculus Quest and some other devices.
Some things that are coming along now, that are in the early stages but advancing, are eye tracking, where you can actually track where a user is looking within an environment. Again, from a safety perspective, let’s say they’re on a job site. You’re dealing with some type of safety-related environment.
Are they watching, say, an excavation if they’re a competent person? Are they truly spending their time watching the excavator and the surroundings, or do they get distracted?
If you introduce a distraction to the other side of the environment that they’re in, do their eyes go away from that for longer than appropriate or not? Are they staying focused? Eye tracking gives you the ability to identify some of those types of behaviors.
The other one is hand tracking. Right now, it’s predominantly the use of handheld controllers in order to detect hand motion. That then limits some of what you can do in terms of picking up, grabbing, squeezing, or having tactile dexterity of certain activities.
The new functionality has really no controllers whatsoever. The cameras built into the headset physically identify, mark with key points, your hands. You go through a little exercise to let it map your hands.
Then you can literally pinch and pick up a pea with your virtual hands within this headset. It allows the user to really experience performing an activity the way they might actually do it in real life. That’s some pretty exciting progress that we’re making in those regards.
Russel: That’s all technology that’s being driven by what they’re doing in the self-driving car world. It’s the same kind of technology just being adapted to a different purpose.
Geoff: There’s a lot of sensors involved in being able to map that. Mapping your surroundings and then having the sensors that can actually pick up where those activities are occurring. Now that becomes mapped into a much smaller, lighter device. That’s another area where we’re seeing what’s next, is that movement towards smaller and lighter devices.
Some people get bothered by the heavier headset. As you go from a tethered unit to a standalone unit, there’s a significant weight difference that you might experience there, either direction.
Now, some of the new things that are being worked on are smartphone-powered VR, where the powerful Snapdragon processors and other things that you see in smartphones have the ability to fully support the demands of virtual reality. Therefore, the headsets can become…
They call them sleek headsets or sleek head-mounted displays. They’re much more like what you think when you see someone wearing a pair of wraparound sunglasses or safety glasses.
They have the visual screen built into them, maybe earphones that are attached to the sides. They’re very small, very light, and therefore less bothersome and give a higher degree of freedom. Again, you’re still dealing with hand tracking as part of that as well.
Dr. Joiner: Part of what’s next, at least in my mind, from an educational and training standpoint is how our learning content management systems interact with the results that are being brought back from those devices, whatever kind of device it is.
How does it track and report the movement of your eyes or your head or your body, your physical body, your hands? How does that bring that back into a system that can allow us to assess and to score, if you will, performance, especially on those tasks that are mission critical and might be a little more difficult and safety concerns there?
Russel: Matt, that’s a really powerful possibility with what you can do this, particularly if it becomes more about…
If you could get to the point that you could do a pipeline safety rodeo and let people compete and use different practices and procedures to see which is most effective, that kind of thing could have some real value for the industry beyond just individuals and individual operators. It’s fun, exciting stuff. Ultimately, what do you think the promise of all this is?
Dr. Joiner: From my perspective, I see extended reality. It is a great technology tool that fits in really, really well to a blended learning model.
When we talk about a blended learning model at Energy Worldnet, that includes e-learning, the computer-based trainings that we have done for many years very, very successfully, the instructor-led trainings that we will continue to do as well, on-the-job training, the virtual reality 360 video, mixed reality, augmented reality.
It’s important that the promise is we’re not going to do one thing at the expense of others. A blended learning model, we believe, is the most effective for learning, for retention, for success on the job keeping people safe.
Our promise is that extended reality is not going to take the place of anything. It’s going to marry well and partner well with the other modalities, the learning opportunities that we promise to afford our clients.
Russel: Geoff, you have anything to add to all that?
Geoff: Yeah. I would add a couple of things to that. One of them, one of the wonderful things about virtual reality is it makes it okay to fail and to learn from your mistakes. You can practice, practice, practice.
We know that repetitive behavior helps build skills and confidence level in what you’re doing. Not just knowing how to do it right, but also what happens if you potentially do it wrong, and it’s safe and ok to do that.
You can encourage people to take some chances if they don’t know and to try some things out. Then they get to experience that and realize that that was a bad decision. People can learn very quickly from that.
That rolls into the second part of it. Not only can they learn from their mistakes, learn what not to do, and do that in a very, very safe environment.
Also, it shortens the learning curve because I can get, literally, years of opportunity and experience in some one-off situations, in a very concentrated amount of time, through a series of scenarios that have been orchestrated to put me to a test of how I would react and can I carry that knowledge and that skill into multiple scenario-based decision making and reactions.
Russel: Awesome. Normally at the end of an episode like this, I might do something like key takeaways and such. I’d like to do something different. I just have one question I want to ask. That is where do I go to play with this stuff.
Dr. Joiner: [laughs]
Russel: I’m sorry. I need a different word other than play. What’s the appropriate word to use other than play?
Russel: Where do I go to experience this stuff?
Geoff: Certainly you can come to Energy Worldnet any time. As we’re out and about in the industry, I know that we have some slow down in that with a lot of things going on with pandemic and other items, and moving some dates around. We routinely go out in the industry and take this equipment with us so that at some of the trade events in the industry people can experience that.
Likewise, we’ve had folks that have come here to our facility, and we’ve put on events. As Matt mentioned, we routinely go out in the industry, even in our local community, and do that.
Russel: I think there’s as much opportunity in augmented reality both for training and for actual doing our jobs as there is in this VR world. I think this technology’s going to be transformational in our business and probably quicker than any of us realize.
Geoff: I’ll add then, Russel, to what you said. If you want to experience it, there are opportunities today to test out, to test drive the virtual reality training. Certainly, we have the content that we’ve been building and working on that is available to start experiencing that and seeing what that looks like.
Additionally, there are some other content providers that we’ve worked with that have the ability to kick the tires if you will. They have some opportunities to rent some equipment or license training on a short-term basis in order to determine if that’s going to fit into your environment and your overall learning program.
Russel: Awesome. Listen, we’ll put some information about that in the show notes and link it all up. Geoff, Matt, thank you very much for coming on the podcast. This has been awesome. You’ve really piqued my interest. I want to take a deeper dive in this tech. It sounds like really interesting stuff.
Dr. Joiner: It really is. Thank you for having us.
Geoff: Thank you, Russel. It’s been a pleasure. Always fun to talk about VR.
Russel: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast and our conversation with Geoff and Matt. Just a reminder before you go, you should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler. Simply visit pipelinerspodcast.com/win to enter yourself in the drawing.
If you’d like to support the podcast, best way to do that is to leave us a review using whatever smart device app you happen to use. You can find instructions at pipelinerspodcast.com.
Russel: If you have ideas, questions, or topics you’d be interested in, please let me know in the Contact Us page at pipelinerspodcast.com or reach out to me on LinkedIn. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.
Transcription by CastingWords