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OPG's X-Lab using innovative technology to look to the future

From virtual reality headsets to specialized glasses that deliver real-time information, there’s a whole lot of innovation going on behind the doors of the X-Lab at Pickering Nuclear Generating Station.

The special division is tapping into the latest technologies to improve training and make work processes more efficient at the Pickering plant and across operations at OPG.

Shot of two men using virtual reality goggles in office.
OPG's X-Lab is testing virtual reality headsets to assist with training.

One of those areas is training. Currently, new employees at Pickering Nuclear are trained and tested by an individual giving instruction in a one-on-one setting. It’s a resource and time intensive process that could be simplified using virtual reality (VR), Bands said, who is one of four full-time members involved with the X-Lab.

Currently in the testing phase are VR kiosks where new employees can don a Vive headset and get immersed in a fully 3D simulation of the plant’s vault environment.

“What’s great about it is the testing and training environment is consistent across the board and you don’t need as many staff to facilitate this,” Bands said.

The X-Lab team is also experimenting with augmented reality via Google Glass and Microsoft HoloLens smartglasses.

The glass technology can communicate and deliver real-time information, such as alerts about increasing radiation levels in a work environment.

Bands says the vision is to have these glasses eventually replace physical manuals, diagrams and written procedures for production staff at the plant. Instead, the futuristic glasses would overlay needed information and instructions directly onto the glass’s heads-up display.

The HoloLens can even overlay dynamic 3D images, for instance, a cutaway of a pump or valve, that can be examined and manipulated in a 360-degree environment.

“Currently, we’re working with written procedures, which can be burdensome,” Bands explained. “The glasses would give you step-by-step instructions on how to complete certain procedures.”

Other innovative X-Lab ideas include software that automates certain plant tasks and a phone app that can gauge components' battery life.

Headed by OPG’s Jason Wight, the special lab started several months ago as OPG sought to update current business practices and improve innovation. In addition to four full-time members, the lab has attracted other engineers at Pickering Nuclear who suggest ideas and tinker on their own innovative concepts in their spare time.

“The beauty in it is if you’ve got a great idea, other people will work on it with you and it will grow. It’s very organic.” Bands said.

Investing in innovation: X-Lab

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