- Associated Press - Saturday, October 11, 2014

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) - The technology behind video games might save lives on oil rigs.

Workers at oil field service company Frank’s International have been experimenting with a virtual training program that enables workers to navigate the hazardous world of offshore work as though they were playing World of Warcraft.

Frank’s Training director Jacke West said it’s a far cry from the PowerPoint presentations that have been his stock-in-trade for years, but he sees the developing technology as a game-changer for training offshore workers.

“Not only can they learn, they can actually gain experience,” he said.

The new training program was developed in partnership with the Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise Center, known as LITE, at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette’s research park.

Frank’s launched as a pilot project this past summer.

The idea is to bring the expertise of LITE’s staff in visualization and simulated virtual environments into the practical world of business, LITE spokeswoman Skyra Rideaux said.

“Think video games with learning, training, analysis and visualization in mind,” she said.

While game-based training programs are becoming more common in many industries, it’s a difficult prospect to simulate the specialized and complex work environment of an offshore oil rig.

“What are the sights? What are the sounds? What are the dangers? ” Rideaux said.

West said Frank’s began using the virtual training program for just one small aspect of the work the company does on rigs but plans to gradually expand it over the coming years to a wide range of other jobs.

He said the simulated work environments also can be used to test the skills of prospective employees and even bring together an entire crew to run through a difficult job on a virtual rig before heading out to a real one.

“Where do you have the ability to practice that?” he said.

West said he envisions the day when training will move into 3-D environments, where workers might simply plug a pair of goggles into their phone and step into a simulated rig or job site.

LITE has worked on smaller virtual training programs in recent years, but the project with Frank’s is the first to involve a comprehensive program for all aspects of a major oil field service company’s operations, interim LITE CEO Paula Phillips Carson said.

LITE, which opened in 2006, was developed as a partnership of the university and local and state economic development agencies to stimulate economic development through innovative technologies.

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Information from: The Advocate, http://theadvocate.com

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