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 Before Nest, thermostats looked like the Honeywell in the left figure, cheap looking white plastic boxes with an outdated look and a small display screen.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.
Larry Adamson says
I love this article Mihai. Something your story hints at, but doesn’t strongly state is that often times “Old Technology” used by the right person (by right person, I mean someone who really understands the nuts and bolts and has both experience and the ability to look at problems from a different perspective than most) can be extremely valuable. Here is an interesting story that shows my point. When my son was 17 he was a very active high school athlete. He complained of a sore wrist. We took him to an Orthopedic Surgeon who did an MRI (state of the art) and deemed it was a severe sprain ( 3 days later). He prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs and physical therapy. After a few weeks the pain was still there so went to another doctor for a second opinion. This doctor talked to him a lot about how and when he experiences pain then took an x-ray (low tech) and came back into the room and announced that he had a broken scaphoid bone. Showed us the x-ray that revealed part of the bone was a different shade of grey (the fracture itself was not visible). He then explained that the bone is very small and has limited blood supply, the different shade of grey was due to the fractured piece having “died” due to lack of blood supply). The only way to fix it was via surgery. I told him about the MRI and the previous opinion. He said “Get the DVD of the MRI (this was 10 years ago) from the doctor and I will show you the fracture.” I did what he asked and returned with the disk. He loaded it into his software (which is a 3D visualization tool very similar to tools seismic interpreters use daily) then panned through the cross sections an zoomed in on the fracture in less that 30 seconds! High tech is only a big advantage if it is in the correct hands.
Terry Norris says
The high tech low tech phenomenon will also become apparent in the push to AI and seismic interpretations based on AI.. All the tools in the tool box depend on the skill and knowledge of the user to pick the right tool for the job. An unskilled user of AI will not have an advantage over a skilled user of “low tech” who understands the use of the tools and information gained from them.