Reality Mobile – Expanding mobile technology’s frontiers

Fri, 02/18/2011

Virgina (US) company Reality Mobile has been developing a solution to these issues since its creation in 2003. Originally conceived for security applications within the federal government, Reality Mobile’s software platform enables instant collaborative problem solving. Once installed, users can connect via mobile devices including smart phones and portable video cameras, or with more standard devices such as laptop computers to share data and video in real time.

“In the oil and gas industry, you have very high value assets that are often located in very remote locations,” says Patrick McVeigh, chairman, Reality Mobile. “Reality Mobile’s platform is designed as a 911 system that puts you in contact with the people and information you need most at the push of a button.”

The system is currently being used by the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. State Department and the Kentucky State Police to enhance their ability to respond to crises and provide security. The technology was also recently used by the DC Metropolitan Police Department during President Obama’s inauguration and in the pope’s visit to Washington in 2008.

Backed by its recently secured funding from oil and gas investors Energy Ventures and Chevron Technology Ventures, and communications investor the Dobson Partnership, Reality Mobile is extending its focus to the oil and gas industry. The company expects to greatly improve energy companies’ ability to respond in real time to unexpected events ranging from minor equipment malfunctions to drilling rig shutdowns, as well as enhance security operations in remote environments.

“Under the way most oil and gas companies currently operate, you have experts sitting in a Houston office, for example, that are responsible for assets in southeast Asia, Europe and Africa,” says Leif Andre Skare, partner at Energy Ventures. “If something breaks, you have to fly these experts out to the location in order to repair the issue. Often this can require more trips and expenses to bring out the proper equipment or additional experts. Reality Mobile offers a way to shorten repair time by putting experts in the shoes of the people at the scene in order to diagnose and remediate the situation quickly.”

An energy services company is already exploring using Reality Mobile’s software platform in Iraq, where it can be difficult to recruit experts for security reasons. Using Reality Mobile’s software, this company will be able to connect the technicians on the ground with experts in the home office instantly. The technician can then transmit real-time video of the scene, while the expert can send back equipment schematics and step-by-step instructions on how to complete the required repair.

The software has also been used in the rail industry, the electric utility industry and in bomb disposal, allowing remote experts to see what is happening and provide advice, as well as to enhance employee security.

Because Reality Mobile got its start in the public sector, it is designed to run on commercially available off-the-shelf hardware, a requirement for most U.S. government agencies, while its software and servers remain proprietary. This means that purchase of the software does not necessarily require a significant hardware investment, and that the platform can easily be integrated into a company’s existing infrastructure. From the management console, an administrator can control where data is routed and who can access it. Further, this administrator can access feeds from remote cameras and control the behavior of remote devices connected to the network.

The software can also be used to connect desktop users with remote users, and remote users with each other. For example, if someone is working on a reservoir model and wants to show an image of it to someone who is traveling, the image can easily be sent to a smart phone.

Additionally, the Reality Mobile system is classed as “enterprise grade,” which means it is reliable, secure and meets the requirements of most companies’ IT departments. All the videos and images generated from remote devices can be tagged with the time they were taken, and (if the person taking them has a GPS chip in their device) the exact location the images were taken from, which is very useful when sifting through thousands of images later (particularly in an investigation).

On the user end, all employees wishing to connect to Reality Mobile’s platform need only to install a piece of software, or an “app”, on their mobile devices. Whether that device can handle instructions in both directions (for example, receiving instructions from off-site experts and sending video back) depends on the limitations of the device and the data bandwidth available. The handheld phone software currently works on Windows Mobile devices and Blackberries, and the company is currently working on versions for Symbian (Nokia) and the iPhone.

Collaboration sessions can be initiated both by the user on the offshore platform, or from the management console.

Reality Mobile’s platform is network independent, and will transmit over any available system that supports IP. From an offshore platform, the data could be sent out directly to satellite via a portable Inmarsat satellite terminal. Or it could be sent back to shore using a VSAT connection, connecting by a platform Wi-Fi system. Installations closer to the coast might have connectivity available via coastal cellular networks.

An important feature of the platform is its ability to keep communication going as the available bandwidth changes. If there are drops to the available bandwidth, automatic adjustments are made to the number of frames per second, but there is no interruption to the communication. For example, with cellular communications, the data rate can decrease as the user gets farther from the base station. Additionally, the company has found that for many applications, the frame rate is not vital – what is most important is that high quality images are captured and fully labeled as to where they were taken and at what time.

“We like to think of Reality Mobile as offering telepresence to the edge,” McVeigh says. “We offer the capabilities found in a telepresence suite or real-time center without the center or the suite. Our system is geared to help energy companies respond immediately to unexpected events and keep their operations running and profitable.”