The 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico caused grave ecological damage, killing and compromising the health of marine life, including whales, dolphins, and seabirds and inflicting damage on the fishing and tourism industry in the region. The disaster was the result of a deadly explosion on Deepwater Horizon, an oil-drilling rig, which was then run by BP, the world’s third largest oil corporation with annual revenue of $300 billion. In the wake of the disaster, BP paid $20 billion in damages to the US administration and to five US states.
The disaster motivated BP to start searching for technologies that could improve its handling of issues and maintenance of oil wells. In addition to streamlining its operations, investing in such technologies would go a long way in strengthening BP’s relations with its investors, who would love to see it taking action to ensure similar disasters never recur. Indeed, BP’s most recent annual report for 2018 dedicated an entire page on augmented reality glasses and the mobile platform that the company implemented to help its technicians do a better job.
"New technologies are helping us build intelligent operations throughout our business," says the annual report. "We are using augmented reality (AR) devices such as ‘smart glasses’ across BPX Energy. Technicians can use the glasses to transmit real-time video to experts anywhere in the business and they can then return AR-enabled instruction back to the technician - all while keeping their hands free. We are now using the mobile platform to troubleshoot equipment, conduct safety verifications and deliver remote training."
The company that provides this technology, which is implemented across 13 thousand BP wells, is Israeli startup Fieldbit which was founded in 2014.
Fieldbit has developed an augmented reality platform, which technicians use on smart glasses, tablets, and smartphones when fixing issues in the field. The platform consists of two parts: the first is Fieldbit's flagship product: a collaboration platform (Hero) that enables a technician to interact with an expert in real time and receive live visual guidance for faster issue resolution times. The second product is a knowledge retention module.
Fieldbit’s products are designed to be used in critical facilities whose maintenance and repair involves specific expertise, both because they are intricate and because of the risks and high costs associated with every mistake. Fieldbit is run by CEO Evyatar Meiron, CTO Shay Solomon and VP marketing Alex Rapoport. The company has raised $7 million, including $1 million from Israel's Official Chief Scientist’s office and the rest from the Russian Skolkovo Ventures fund, Eldad Weiss who is also the company’s chairman, Israeli family fund Atooro and private investors including Igal Ahuvi.
Meiron told "Globes" that the company is planning an additional financing round, in which it hopes to raise $7 million, which will be used to expand its marketing and sales operations as well as for the continued development of its platform.
"BP approached us almost two years ago with a pressing need. The oil and gas industry has experienced a breakthrough in recent years after technology was developed for extracting oil from rocks. Fracking, as this technology is called, has made oil production cheaper than before, transforming the US from a big oil importer into a big oil exporter and redefining the politics of the Middle East," says Meiron.
How has Fieldbit been affected by the changes in the oil industry?
"Energy companies have come to realize that in order to increase revenues, they need to produce more oil and increase the number of wells. This, in turn, required more technicians to maintain the wells, incurring higher costs. For this reason, oil companies are looking for ways to grow the number of wells while keeping the number of technicians unchanged. Since oil well issues are a matter of life and death and BP has had its share of safety incidents, they chose us."
Everyone remembers BP because of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which is just one example of the possible risks of oil production. Why did you choose to work with oil companies when the need to switch to green energy has never been greater?
"Energy is only one case use for our product, which can be used also by renewable energy facilities, such as windmills. As long as there are oil wells around the world, we offer the benefit of producing oil more efficiently and with fewer accidents. This is very important in an industry that deals with experts who are leaving their organization along with their know-how."
The oil and energy market, in which Fieldbit is present by providing its solution to all of BP oil wells in North America, is not the only market it targets. Meiron says the company is also working with printing and machinery customers, where its software is used for issue resolution, maintenance, and quality control. Fieldbit did not disclose the names of the customers that it serves in these markets.
"We recently scaled our system also to knowledge retention and management. We realized that our customers need augmented reality to also preserve the know-how stored in the experts’ heads. On-field services is an area dominated by older people. Given that 30% of the experts in these enterprises will retire within the next three years and the long training time required for replacing them with other experts, organizations risk losing large amounts of knowledge."
Why replace the experts with a knowledge retention system rather than with younger experts?
"The younger generation is not trained in the same way people were trained 10-15 years ago. The current approach advocates keeping the knowledge in the enterprise, not in the experts’ heads."
How does your system work?
"The customer feeds the expert know-how into Fieldbit’s system, in a variety of ways: recording the technician-expert interaction, for example. Each service call is recorded, from the augmented reality documentation on our platform to text messages. Another means is by proactively feeding the system wih specific issues and repairs that the customer would like to retain. Finally, information from all the IoT devices in the customer’s sites can be fed in real time."
Fieldbit is the third venture of Meiron, a seasoned entrepreneur who in the 1980s and 1990s founded Hashavshevet, Wizcon and PC Soft International. "My first two ventures involved implementing novel technology into traditional market. This exposed me to the needs of the traditional manufacturing industries. In 2013-2014, Google introduced Google Glass, making me realize this could be a groundbreaking technology for the traditional market," recalls Meiron. "The technology has been in existence for many years, but it was only then that the hardware that allows using AR in the business market was developed.
"An increasing share of the investments in smart glasses made by Microsoft and others targets large business enterprises, rather than consumers. Nonetheless, today’s glasses are still bulky and have battery life issues. This is the reason they are not used broadly across the market. Most of our customers start working with the devices they already have, such as smartphones and tablets and add the glasses at a later stage," says Meiron.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on May 22, 2019
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