When I posted in LinkedIn a link to my Geophysical Society of Houston Technical Lunch in order to generate some publicity for my talk on Beam Tomography, one of the interesting comments from a colleague at a large service company was that Beam Technology is “a technology with many benefits that unfortunately is commonly regarded as old school / low tech.” I loved the comment because it allows me to talk about one of my favorite business concepts that I always look around to apply, and that is High-Tech Low-Tech. High-Tech is a term for new technology that incorporates advanced features. Low-Tech is the old school technology. I’ll start with an example, the story of the Nest thermostat.
Left: the old Honeywell thermostat. Right: the Nest thermostat is an example of High-Tech Low-Tech.
The co-founders of the Nest company were Apple employees who worked on developing the Ipod and Iphone. They left Apple to start the company making the Nest thermostat that eventually was bought by Google for a billion dollars. Before Nest, thermostats looked like the Honeywell in the left figure, cheap looking white plastic boxes with an outdated look and a small display screen. Perfect example of Low-Tech. The Nest thermostat has a beautiful minimalist design, blending smartly form and function. The first thing that you enter after you connect it with the wall wires is the home wireless Internet password. The thermostat then gets the outside temperature based on your location, the average historical high and low temperatures in your area and starts optimizing your thermostat operation based on your daily habits and the outside temperature. It uses motion sensing so when you walk past it the screen automatically lights up to show the temperature and time. It allows you to see the temperature in your house from your smart phone. It optimizes via machine learning from your hourly usage the temperature schedule in your house. The Nest thermostat is an example of High-Tech Low-Tech. It takes a simple or older technology and combines it with advanced features and advanced functionality.
An old Silicon Valley mantra postulates that money is not in technology but in the business application of technology.
That gets us back to Beam Technologies and Smart Migrations. In the same way the Nest thermostat took the old temperature control device to a higher level, Smart Migrations are taking the Brute Force Migrations (or Dumb Migrations) to a new level by incorporating advanced features. Ray tracing, which underpins beam methods, has been theoretically understood and computationally feasible since the 1960s. Ray tracing and beams are Low-Tech. Combining Beams and standard Tomography into Beam Tomography that produces velocity models very similar to the Full Waveform Inversion (FWI) models, is High-Tech Low-Tech.
An important point to remember is that Reverse Time Migration (RTM), FWI and other computationally intensive methods don’t create information to form a detailed image or velocity model — the information must be present in the seismic data. This is where the first High-Tech feature of beam migrations enters: the seismic data is analyzed for coherent signal and is distilled to a small number of beams that carry the essence of the data. After this velocity-less procedure is accomplished, migrating the beams with any specific velocity is a question of minutes. The second High-Tech feature is to carefully synchronize migrated beams that image the same seismic structure. The mismatch between the beams is converted to corrections of the velocity field. Since beams propagate through a small tube in the earth, the velocity modifications have pinpoint accuracy and are rich in detail. Iterating fast beam migration and these velocity updates, allow for automated velocity model building that conforms to seismic structures and has details akin to velocities produced by FWI in a faster and much less computationally intensive way. Why not use all the available information to improve the quality of the image and reduce the computer resources to obtain it?
PGS had first mover’s advantage when they bought Sherwood’s company, the original developer of Fast Beam Migration, but missed out the opportunity to differentiate their offering based on Beam Technologies and instead joined the herd in pushing RTM and FWI, where they do not have any differentiating product.