Major oil companies, such as Aramco, Mobil and Chevron, have funded much of our ongoing 3D data interaction efforts. This revenue has helped Novint to become self supporting, to develop a series of products that have direct applicability to petroleum exploration and production, and to continue to develop our core volumetric and surface visualization, evaluation and modification technologies. Due to the universal nature of the 3D data that is handled by these applications (i.e., volumetric and surface), the underlying technology and the applications themselves can and have been used in other areas where this kind of data is generated. For instance, volumetric data is used extensively in Medicine and work performed for the petroleum industry can be leveraged for our medical efforts. Surface data is used in the design and manufacturing domain as well. As a result, our petroleum-related development work is broadly applicable, and has created a foundation for many of Novint’s subsequent successes.
Oil Exploration - Exxon Mobil
Developed in collaboration with practicing geoscientists and interpreters at Mobil Oil (now Exxon Mobil), Novint’s VoxelNotepad (VNP) application provides interactive 3D stereoscopic visualization and haptically enhanced selection, evaluation and modification of oil exploration data and models on a Windows computer workstation.
Geophysical Data in voxelNotepad
This application allows Mobil scientists and interpreters to better understand their three-dimensional (i.e., volumetric) data by mapping data attributes to touch properties such as hardness, viscosity and vibration. This means that data representing different geological structures can be quickly recognized and characterized by differences in feel as well as appearance. In addition, VNP allows 3D data models of oil fields and other geological structures to be interactively modified. Prior to VNP, updating these 3D models was extremely tedious and time-consuming. Interpreters were forced to modify large three-dimensional data sets by editing two-dimensional slices of the data one at a time on a per “pixel” basis. With VNP, interpreters can modify the three-dimensional data directly and interactively. Force feedback provides invaluable information concerning the nature of the data being edited and helps guide the editing process organically.
It should be noted that much of the technology developed for VNP is fundamental and can be applied to any data that is in volumetric format. This includes data from remote sensing applications (e.g., undersea and space exploration) and data from medical imaging devices such as CT, MRI and 3D ultrasound machines.
Geological Modeling - Chevron
The TouchStone™ application touch-enables the creation and modification of boundary models of the sub-surface environment. As part of the oil exploration and production process, boundary models of important geophysical structures are created and refined based on seismic and other empirical oil field data. Like any CAD surface model, these boundary models need to be created, understood and refined. Prior to the development of TouchStone™, the creation, evaluation and modification of these 3D models had been hampered by the lack of touch feedback. Haptic interactions allow modelers to quickly and precisely designate the location of surfaces; feel as well as see their extent and shape; and directly modify them using their sense of touch. Like the creation and modification of physical models in everyday life, the creation and modification of digital models is difficult and impoverished without the sense of touch. The TouchStone application has added this crucial sense of touch to digital modeling.
Geophysical Structures in Touchstone
Within the context of the TouchStone effort, we have developed technology that allows the haptically enhanced creation, evaluation and modification of large polygonal models. The polygonal algorithms are able to handle 1 million-polygon models in real time on PC-class computers. These capabilities are fundamental to any application that creates, uses or changes CAD models.
Oil Production - Aramco
In conjunction with geoscientists at Saudi Aramco, Novint Technologies is extending its oil exploration and volumetric visualization/modification application VoxelNotepad. In this five-year effort, capabilities are being added to VoxelNotepad, now known as VoxelNotepad2 (VNP2), to support and enhance the oil reservoir and well-path modeling process. The project is aimed at demonstrating and validating the use of haptic interaction techniques in the interpretation and understanding of volumetric reservoir-modeling data by Saudi Aramco on a desktop Virtual Reality (VR) environment. Once this initial phase is completed, a full production version of VNP2 will be used throughout Aramco.
Reservoir models in voxelNotepad2
3D tools such as the clip plane shown above, intuitively controlled by a 3D input device, allow a user to quickly visualize and understand complex 3D data.
During the first year of this effort, the voxelNotepad2 program was extended and enhanced in order to enable the interpretation of data from commercial and developmental oil reservoir modeling programs, using the Schlumberger ECLIPSE (ECL) data format. Layer, time-step, and well-path data are now supported in VNP2 and can be seen and felt in real-time in the desktop environment. Data sets on the order of 500,000 data “cells” were supported in year 1. Our success and results during the first year led to the award of a contract for year 2. During the second year, we further refined VNP2 to be able to handle full production-level oil reservoir model data sets (approximately 1-3 million data cells in size), and added additional visualization support to allow oil company personnel to focus on key areas of their models. Our Aramco customers felt that these new capabilities were sufficient to justify using VNP2 in their oil production process, and to justify the renewal of our contract for another year. The main goals of year three were to further refine and extend the VNP2 software to support simultaneous interactive visual, haptic and auditory (i.e., multimodal) rendering of multiple reservoir properties. In addition, VNP2’s loading and rendering performance were improved, and stereographic visual rendering were added. The following year, Aramco requested that Novint incorporate features that would optimize VNP2’s performance. Our work in year four resulted in a significant increase in both the speed and capacity of the application, allowing for faster loading and the expansion of the number and size of volumes that could be loaded. Furthermore, we developed automated tools that help researchers discover and explore situations of interest more efficiently. Novint is currently entering the fifth year of our contract relationship with Aramco.
As with VNP, with the exception of the specific oil reservoir modeling file reader, the technology and capabilities developed in voxelNotepad2 are fully applicable to other applications utilizing volumetric data. The VNP2 efforts are particularly synergistic with our medical efforts. In particular, this technology is critical to our Virtual Reality Dental Training System and 3D ultrasound efforts described in other sections of this document.