- Associated Press - Sunday, October 16, 2016

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) - Imagine walking around an oil rig long before ever setting foot on the actual rig.

Or being able to inspect hard-to-reach stacks and pipes on an offshore platform in real time without an employee having to climb scaffolding.

Those are some of the things possible today thanks to developments taking place at the Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise Center in Lafayette.

It started around 2010-11 when the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development realized the need for a more effective and engaging training program than a PowerPoint presentation, LITE Chief Operating Officer Erin Marietta said.

LITE Center staff tackled the problem, developing a better way to train employees using immersive training, which she described as “really just a video game.”

Instead of a trainer telling employees to takes steps A, B and C during an emergency, immersive training lets the employee take those steps virtually on a computer.

Adam Prejean, lead artist at the LITE Center, demonstrated how offshore oil workers can take safety training and tests via a computer.

The “game” lets the worker walk the platform, clicking on virtual safety hazards like spilled paint, a loose metal panel and a fire hydrant with the improper pressure.

LITE Center staff also developed a multi-rotor flight simulator - a drone or unmanned aerial vehicle, if you will - they intend to use to enter the virtual reality market with, according to Will Bass, LITE’s lead software/game developer.

It’s an emerging industry, he said.

“We always encourage staff to think of new and innovative ideas to help the community and Louisiana,” Marietta said. “When the drone was first pitched, there was a lot of interest from the university and oil and gas industry.”

While some see drones as a form of entertainment, Marietta stressed they have application in industry, as well. There’s a market for surveying land and rigs, and for safety training.

LITE partners with the Lafayette Economic Development Authority, which developed the Opportunity Machine, a business accelerator which provides businesses with LITE Center office space and resources.

DaCoda Bartels, owner of Aerobotics, an unmanned aircraft flying service, is an Opportunity Machine tenant at the LITE Center, where his business and LITE’s technology came together.

A commercial pilot, Bartels uses drones to capture more data faster and in some cases safer than in the past.

His drones can scan offshore platforms being decommissioned in 20 minutes instead of a week, sending information and visuals to the company in real time.

The information Bartels captures with his drones can be loaded into the LITE Center’s Total Immersion Space - the egg-shaped glass structure you see riding down Cajundome Boulevard - for an immersive tour of any facility, from an oil platform to the Cajundome.

Bartels said he can use drones to do dangerous work on oil platforms.

Many areas of a platform need to be inspected but are hard to access, like exhaust and flare stacks. Inspections can require one or two workers to climb out on rigging and eye the stacks or shoot photos, he said.

But a drone can easily fly to and hover around the stacks, taking video images and relaying them immediately to the platform operator’s engineers.

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Information from: The Advertiser, http://www.theadvertiser.com

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