By Kelli Ainsworth Robinson, Associate Editor
Situational awareness, or the lack thereof, can significantly impact an individual’s decision making and performance on a drilling rig. “You can make your system as robust as possible, but if someone performing their job isn’t aware or is missing some key cues, they can’t deliver successfully,” Raj Kiran, a PhD candidate in petroleum engineering at the University of Oklahoma (OU), said at the 2018 IADC/SPE Drilling Conference in Fort Worth, Texas, on 7 March.
Historically, most methods of measuring situational awareness, like questionnaires and de-briefings, have been somewhat subjective. However, the drilling industry is now considering adopting real-time eye-tracking technology that’s already been used in the aviation, medical and meteorological industries. Such technology can show what information an individual is taking in and how much attention they’re paying to that information, which can inform evaluation of someone’s situational awareness.
To understand how this technology could be applied on drilling rigs, a team of researchers at OU performed an exercise in the university’s virtual reality drilling simulator, applying real-time eye tracking to study participants’ situational awareness.
Eye-tracking technologies use a pupil center corneal reflection technique that directs an infrared light source toward a subject’s eye. Reflections from the eye are captured and recorded by a camera that’s either located in a static monitor or eyeglasses. Software algorithms process the images to pinpoint where a user looked, how often and for how long they looked at a given area, and their pupil dilation. Dilated pupils are linked with brain activation and cognitive processing, so a dilated pupil indicates a user is not just seeing the data but also taking it in.
Knowing where someone has looked, and how often or for how long, can also provide insight into what data a person had when making a decision, Mr Kiran said. “It can be very difficult to see and understand how they’re making decisions, but eye tracking is a tool that allows us to objectively measure and quantify responses.”
On a drilling rig, the driller has to process significant amounts of data to inform their decisions. They’re regularly monitoring multiple parameters, such as weight on bit (WOB), torque and rate of penetration (ROP), to collect valuable data on drilling performance. Other parameters, like flow rates and pit volumes, can alert the driller to a potential kick. However, distractions, which can impair the driller’s situational awareness, abound in a driller’s cabin. “There are so many alarms, the driller cannot address them all, so they just start ignoring them,” Mr Kiran said. Some alarms that are ignored may be important, and all alarms have the potential to distract the driller from monitoring drilling and well conditions. Additionally, stress and fatigue can impair concentration and situational awareness.
To see how real-time eye tracking could be used to assess situational awareness in a drilling environment, OU conducted a study in a virtual reality drilling simulator on the university’s campus in Norman, Okla. The simulator room includes a high-fidelity National Oilwell Varco offshore drilling simulator with three cyber chairs. More than 20 participants with a range of industry experience – from novice to seasoned veterans with more than 10 years experience – were tested in the simulator. They were presented with data from a real-life well control incident that took place in the North Sea. The incident occurred after a power failure that impacted both mud pumps, which caused an influx into the well.
The participants were asked to pay attention to well log data showing several parameters, including WOB, ROP, rotary speed, hookload, torque, standpipe pressure (SPP), flow in/out and gas percentage. They were not instructed on what to look for. Rather, they were asked to observe the data, report any abnormalities and what they might indicate. In particular, each participant was tracked on how much attention they paid to the gas percentage because it increased during the exercise and indicated a kick. Researchers also looked closely at whether participants focused on abnormal SPP and flow in/out readings, which would be important indicators of power loss to the pumps.
Attention to these areas of interest was measured by tracking how frequently and for what duration participants’ eyes focused on these areas. “We saw pretty early that some of the participants were not looking at the places they needed to be looking at,” Mr Kiran said. OU compared the eye-tracking data of two participants – one who showed high situational awareness and was able to identify abnormalities, and another who showed much less. The participant with higher situational awareness spent a higher percentage of the activity – which took five minutes – looking at the areas of interest. This participant also watched these areas longer and more frequently.
By indicating what data a driller observed and how much attention he or she paid to it before reacting, real-time eye tracking can be a powerful tool for measuring situational awareness. “Eye-tracking data can be a cue for an important decision,” he said. “It can be an effective tool to quantify the alertness and awareness of the participants.”
Eye-tracking systems could be used on rigs not just to track how decisions are made but also to help enable better decisions and situational awareness, Mr Kiran added. Real-time eye-tracking systems could be set up with alarms that notify a driller if they haven’t been paying enough attention to a particular data gauge, encouraging them to turn their attention to that data. “We can give them feedback to improve their performance,” he said. DC
For more information about this project, please see IADC/SPE 189678, “Real-Time Eye-Tracking System to Evaluate and Enhance Situation Awareness and Process Safety in Drilling Operations,” presented at the 2018 IADC/SPE Drilling Conference, 6-8 March, Fort Worth, Texas.
Real-time eye tracking has the potential to be used on drilling rigs to track the situational awareness of drillers, Raj Kiran, a PhD candidate at the University of Oklahoma, said at the 2018 IADC/SPE Drilling Conference in Fort Worth, Texas, on 7 March. A test of the eye-tracking technology, conducted at OU’s virtual reality drilling simulator, found that it has strong potential applications on drilling rigs to track how decisions are made, as well as enable better decision making. During the test at OU, participants wore eye-tracking glasses while eye-tracking information was displayed on the left-most monitor in real time.