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Houston OTC chairman sees an increasing effect of digital tech ahead of the 50th anniversary

Wafik Beydoun has served on the board of OTC for almost a decade. Courtesy of Beydoun

Wafik Beydoun has been on the board of the Houston Offshore Technology Conference — and has served as chairman for the past two years. As he prepares to pass the baton after this year's event, he's reflected on how much the conference has changed — namely due to new innovation and technologies.

"The rising tide of the digital revolution is lifting us all — not only OTC or the industry — and it's lifting us at an exponential rate," Beydoun tells InnovationMap. "Digital is moving now exponentially, whether we want it to or not, we're benefitting from it."

OTC takes place at NRG Park from May 6 to 9. Beydoun shares his observations and advice on how innovation and startups have effected change at the 50-year-old conference.

InnovationMap: What's going to differentiate this year's conference from previous years?

Wafik Beydoun: This year is very special because we are celebrating the 50th birthday of OTC. The first event was held in May of 1969. Last year it was the 50th event, so these two years are very unique. Last year, we had an opening ceremony, and we will have that again this year — that's different from OTCs in the past.

The most important change you'll see is the amount of papers on offshore renewables — it's something the board wanted to test and show that the industry is being more aware in this area. What I mean when I say offshore renewables is mostly offshore wind, but there's also energy from waves and gas hydrates — another form of gas trapped under ice in the subsea. These are things we have had in the past few years, but this year we have 14 sessions on marine renewables.

IM: What sort of new technologies (machine learning, IOT, AI, etc.) are you excited about seeing grow its presence at OTC?

WB: The way the technologies are impacting is it can go from drilling to monitoring remotely. More and more platforms in difficult conditions are reducing the number of people involved. There are already talks about unmanned platforms offshore. On safety in general, digital and AI immersion are able to help train people faster and without injuring themselves.

IM: How have startups been represented at the conference?

WB: We recognize that startups are adding a lot of oxygen into OTC. We need that for different reasons. For one, they bring in innovation in energy. Also with this kind of digital area, we have a lot of startups coming from Silicon Valley that want to innovate in the energy domain, and OTC can be that space where we can invite them to help us in our challenges.

IM: How has innovation and technology affected the conference specifically over the years?

WB: The conference is the place where you have all the specialists come and talk about their projects — it attracts all those who have an exciting story to tell, and it could be in innovation. And they bring their tool or technology into the exhibition. In 1969 at OTC, you could see the suit we'd put humans in to go under water. Now, you can see the robots that explore the seafloor.

IM: How has innovation and technology affected the conference specifically over the years?

WB: Register for the Rice Alliance Startup Roundup event. You have the opportunity to invest or meet face-to-face these 50 startups on the rise. The second thing you should attend is the Spotlight on the New Technology Award. Based on these technologies, you can have a feel of what's the leading edge of technology for the industry as presented by exhibitors. If an entrepreneur wants to see what's new and bringing money, attending this will show him or her what companies want that new technology.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

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Houston-based imaware, which has an at-home COVID-19 testing process, is working with Texas A&M University on researching how the virus affects the human body. Getty Images

An ongoing medical phenomenon is determining how COVID-19 affects people differently — especially in terms of severity. A new partnership between a Houston-based digital health platform and Texas A&M University is looking into differences in individual risk factors for the virus.

Imaware, which launched its at-home coronavirus testing kit in April, is using its data and information collected from the testing process for this new study on how the virus affects patients differently.

"As patient advocates, we want to aid in the search to understand more about why some patients are more vulnerable than others to the deadly complications of COVID-19," says Jani Tuomi, co-founder of imaware, in a press release. "Our current sample collection process is an efficient way to provide longitudinal prospectively driven data for research and to our knowledge, is the only such approach that is collecting, assessing, and biobanking specimens in real time."

Imaware uses a third-party lab to conduct the tests at patients' homes following the Center for Disease Control's guidelines and protocol. During the test, the medical professional takes additional swabs for the study. The test is then conducted by Austin-based Wheel, a telemedicine group.

Should the patient receive positive COVID-19 results, they are contacted by a representative of Wheel with further instructions. They are also called by a member of a team led by Dr. Rebecca Fischer, an infectious disease expert and epidemiologist and laboratory scientist at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health, to grant permission to be a part of the study.

Once a part of the study, the patient remains in contact with Fischer's team, which tracks the spread and conditions of the virus in the patient. One thing the researchers are looking for is the patients' responses to virus complications caused by an overabundance of cytokines, according to the press release. Cytokines are proteins in the body that fight viruses and infections, and, if not working properly, they can "trigger an over-exuberant inflammatory response" that can cause potentially deadly issues with lung and organ failure or worse, per the release.

"We believe strongly in supporting this research, as findings from the field can be implemented to improve clinical processes-- helping even more patients," says Wheel's executive medical director, Dr. Rafid Fadul.

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