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In a small, cinema-like room Ed van Zeeland taps his finger and a giant curved screen comes alive with 3D models of an underground world. Along the back wall, smart glass turns milky white to block out the light. The unique screen can hold up to 12 displays at a time, whether projected from inside the room or fed from computers around the world.

The iScope in Rijswijk, the Netherlands, is the latest of 15 virtual reality centres Shell operates worldwide. Its role is to help scientists and engineers discover new oil and gas resources and design new production facilities that will help meet the world’s growing demand for energy.

“With iScope you can go to places that you normally cannot go to and see things that you normally cannot see,” says Ed, a virtual reality consultant and head of iScope.

This could be exploring oil or gas fields hidden thousands of metres below the seabed, examining how liquid penetrates and flows through rock, or using an avatar to walk around a production facility or filling station that has yet to be built. 

The screen transports you effortlessly into a virtual world.

Immense curved screen

Ed van Zeeland takes iScope visitors to another world

Ed van Zeeland takes iScope visitors to another world

Three-dimensional explorations like these are made possible by iScope’s many advanced audio-visual technologies. These include stereographic display, surround sound, walk-inside visualisation and GeoSigns, a software technology developed by Shell to visualise and interpret seismic data.

But pride of place at iScope is the 11 x 2.5 metre curved screen onto which images are seamlessly projected with a resolution of 17 megapixels from 10 high-definition projectors. No other curved screen in the world has such a high resolution.

“The sense of immersion is intensified with a curved screen,” explains Ed. “The screen transports you effortlessly into a virtual world. You can’t see the real world because it lies outside your field of vision.”

Solving scientific challenges

Prelude FLNG

Engineers can walk round Prelude FLNG before it’s built

iScope was officially opened in May 2013. It took 18 months to design and four months to install all the equipment. A dedicated team worked to ensure the centre is compatible with advanced audio-visual technologies across the company – so-called high-end collaboration. This allows teams in different locations to work together in solving project challenges more efficiently.

One of these projects is the world’s largest floating vessel for turning natural gas to liquid at sea, Prelude FLNG. The visualisation technologies at iScope enable the engineers to walk around, examine and assess any part of the vessel in 3D before it is built.

This ensures that each part of this huge and complex production facility is designed in the best and safest way possible.

The centre is also preparing engineers of the future. A learning programme under development will use virtual reality to transport graduates to fields around the world, efficiently teaching them how to gather and assess a wide range of geological data.