Virtual reality earns its chops as training tool

Published on the 15/03/2019 | Written by Heather Wright


VR_Students at Auckland university

Taking the danger out of training – for you and me…

A couple of years back virtual reality was the glamour girl of tech. It was going to transform the way we connected, interacted and communicated in both business and private lives.

Today, however, the market is more muted. VR and its sister AR are still far from mainstream, and while they have found at home in the consumer market, the business benefits remain less clear.

IDC however, is forecasting strong growth for the VR and AR market this year and in the years ahead, with a five-year compound annual growth rate of 69.6 percent with personal and consumer services, retail and discrete manufacturing among the industries expected to spend the most on the technologies this year. Consumer spending volume, however, continues to dominate use cases, with VR games, video/feature viewing and AR games topping the list. But there is one commercial application getting a look in: Training. It’s predicted to account for US$1.8 billion of the forecast $20.4 billion global this year.

We can replicate the physical environment of our sites so staff can undertake virtual health and safety training in an immersive and realistic way.

When it comes to training, the technology is proving particularly useful in cases where real life site visits are too dangerous, the training is for managing dangerous scenarios – say a fire on an oil rig or dealing with an engine failure on a plane – or where setting students loose on sophisticated technologies is just, well, too darned risky.

Kiwi multinational dairy co-op Fonterra is using VR training to assess trainees on ‘training tours’. Trainees complete a walkthrough of an environment, identifying features of importance across health and safety, food safety and quality, asset management and sustainability, with data on the training analysed by Fonterra to assess competence and to help improve training.

Greg Lazzaro, Fonterra director of health and safety, resilience and risk, says the opportunities for VR are significant.

“We can replicate the physical environment of our sites so staff can undertake virtual health and safety training in an immersive and realistic way. They can learn about and identify potential hazards more quickly so they are more engaged employees and better workplace safety.”

Linx Cargo Care Group, which has 4000 staff across Australia and New Zealand, is embracing virtual reality for safety training.

The company, which says it is ‘highly committed to sending its 4,000 people home safely every day’, launched the Gear VR training platform last month and will role it out company-wide in April.

“Virtual reality training will enable us to immerse all our people in diverse situations and expose them to critical risks in our hazardous work environment,” says Anthony Jones, Linx CCG CEO.

“To put people into different situations where they have the chance to see how it would play out and to immerse them in a scenario, showing them real dangers and consequences, is invaluable,” he said.

Peter Seaman, Linx CCG executive general manager of health, safety and environment, adds that VR helps ensure messages aren’t ‘lost in translation’ and delivered in different ways, minimising the potential for miscommunication.

At the University of Auckland Business School virtual reality field trips are enabling students Bachelor of Property students to ‘tour’ a leaky building which is being remediated.

Senior lecturer Michael Rehm, says VR, using Google Cardboard headsets, enables students to virtually experience field trips to active construction sites and other high-risk, complex environments that would be impractical to visit in-person.

“VR is the next best thing to being there. And they can do it from wherever – their home, a café,” Dr Rehm says.

For University students, there’s a dual benefit, Rehm says.

“As well as being a compelling teaching tool, VR is something tomorrow’s property professionals will increasingly need to know how to use,” he says, noting that VR is likely to be used in marketing buildings, including off-plan options, to prospective buyers ad could also be used to help visualise and manage the high tech systems monitoring and optimising smart buildings.

Meanwhile, GibLib – which dubs itself the ‘Netflix of medical education’ launched what it says is the first VR app for live immersive operating room experiences for surgical training. The app, which GibLib promises provides ‘the most immersive and accessible operating room experience anywhere, at anytime’ provides 360-degree VR content of both filmed and live stream surgeries, helping train surgeons and supporting medical staff as surgical techniques and procedural best practices advance ever faster.

Meanwhile, KFC used VR to teach trainees the ‘secret recipe’ to making their fried chicken – bundling the training into an ‘escape room’ game – get the recipe right and you can get out quick. KFC says using VR cut training time from 25 minutes to 10 minutes.

For those training with VR, there could be additional positive spinoffs, with one study, albeit from Miami Children’s Health System, showing learning retention one year after a VR training session can be as much as 80 percent, compared with just 20 percent after a week with traditional training.

Walking in someone else’s shoes
But VR isn’t just letting us walk in our own shoes, but in other people’s shoes too, in order to better understand issues such as racism and sexism.

Sydney’s Equal Reality offers diversity and inclusion training via VR, with customers including the Royal Australian Navy, Port Macquarie-Hastings Council and digital property portal and real estate business Domain Group.

Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab has created an immersive virtual reality experience where you walk in the shoes of a black male, from childhood through to a young adult, and encounter racism first hand, in an attempt to induce empathy. The University has developed similar offerings for other topics including homelessness, and says research shows undergoing the Becoming Homeless VR experience altered people’s attitudes, making them more empathic and more likely to sign a petition in support of affordable housing.

HPC Interaction Lab, meanwhile, are using VR to help medical sales teams feel what it’s like for a doctor to interact with a patient during consultations. Interestingly, HPC and sister agency Axiom opted to not show the ‘patient’ as a complete person, instead using a ‘grid’ outline for patients to avoid uncanny valley issues – no doubt a surefire way to remove some of our empathy for VR ‘patients’.

While VR might not have infiltrated business to the degree it was once expected to, training seems to be a logical resting place for the technology.

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