Nothing beats hands-on experience when you’re learning a new skill — especially if it’s in a highly-specialized field like oil and natural gas. But with today’s technology, hands-on experience is far easier to create.

Coming from the world of video games — or your favorite science fiction movie — augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are technologies that enrich our surroundings with digital information, or, in the case of VR, replace it entirely with a realistic digital environment.

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Industries from architecture and construction to medicine are using these technologies to improve their training programs and enhance safety and efficiency at every step. The oil and natural gas industry is no exception, using virtual reality to replicate drilling sites and give new trainees hands-on experience before they ever step onto a working rig. Augmented reality also gives oil and natural gas professionals enhanced perception by giving them digital readouts of what is going on around them.

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality can place a student in a realistic world with lifelike duties at an oil and natural gas facility. The student can then go through their tasks in this virtual world, but with the opportunity to learn from mistakes without bringing about real-life consequences.

Virtual training has been shown to be far more effective than traditional teaching methods, as well. A study conducted by the National Training Laboratory showed that virtual training had a 75 percent retention rate, compared with 5 percent retention from lectures and 10 percent retention from reading.

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In the field, virtual reality could be used to create immersive, 3D models of sub-surface earth, giving an accurate representation of a drill path.

Augmented Reality

While virtual reality creates an entirely virtual environment, augmented reality enriches the real environment with digital information, usually through smart glasses.

For example, as an oil and natural gas professional goes through an assignment, a digital display overlaid onto smart glasses would feed them key information to enhance their efficiency and safety.

For example, a field technician armed with AR could walk up to a broken compressor unit and gain immediate, hands-free access to the unit’s repair manual.

As VR and AR technologies continue to improve and are implemented into the oil and natural gas industry, we’ll likely continue to see improvements in experiential training, knowledge retention, safety and efficiency.