Virtual Reality is an incredibly exciting field. It is one of the most interesting areas for VR developers in the UK and worldwide.
VR has a myriad of uses, but one that often doesn’t get the attention that it deserves, possible because it is less ‘fantastic’ than, say, gaming, is the field of industrial training.
We believe that in the very near future, virtual reality will allow users to interact with computer generated 3D environments, potentially, as seamlessly as we interact with the real world. When this happens, VR will become totally immersive and potentially completely realistic.
Many of us have seen the demonstrations, or experienced the HTC Vive and Google Glass. While there is still a long way to go, there is no doubt that VR headsets are becoming more and more streamlined, comfortable and accessible. Cost is a major barrier to adoption, as well, but to see how far this technology can go, you only have to consider how far PC’s have changed over the last 15 years. The leaps in VR technology we can expect over the next 15 years are hard to predict, but they will no doubt be extraordinary.
These developments mean that more and more businesses will be able to incorporate VR into their marketing (which will be an early adopter of this technology) and perhaps less obviously their training programs.
Nowhere will VR be more useful than in industries involving hazardous work and heavy machinery. In the South African mining industry for example, thanks to the creation of a VR mining simulator at the University of Pretoria, interest in the practical applications of VR is steadily increasing. The 3D simulation they have created allows students to learn the demands of a job in the coal mining industry more effectively than they would in a classroom, but in a far safer environment. As well as the overall immersion of the experience, hazards can be easily introduced into the simulation. Hazards which students have to react to in real time, learning from their mistakes so as to perfect their responses, without the risks of harm that are involved in a mining accident.
In the US as well, Industrial Training International have created a simulator that allows construction companies to train their workers how to operate cranes, at a fraction of the cost or physical on the job training, with no risk to life or machine.
The simulator uses an Oculus Rift headset combined with the same modular control system that the real crane has. The developers say that as VR headsets become more advanced, they may change from the Oculus Rift as/if a better option comes along, but still, using the current technology, the effects are impressive.
The chair that the trainee sits in is fitted with actuators so as to create a convincing sense of movement. The fact that it is a modular system means that individual companies can add extra features, such as joysticks that provide force feedback, depending on their needs, and as the technology develops. The actuators in the chair are designed to prevent the trainee suffering from motion sickness, a genuine problem for some VR users, whilst at the same time providing an incredibly realistic feeling of movement.
The training simulation is real enough to provide trainees with all the operational knowledge they could possibly need in order to pass a practical exam. While it does not, yet, replace all the on the job training, the day is not far off when it will.
VR may have become far more advanced in recent years, but that is not to say it hasn’t been useful for quite a while. In the aviation world for example, both military and commercial, virtual reality cockpits have been used to train pilots for years. Other forms of the technology have been used by maintenance teams in order to learn how best to fix problems the aircraft may sustain.
This makes sense, as it sounds unwise to let a rookie pilot or technician learn from their mistakes on a multi-million pound piece of hardware.
As one of the UK’s top developers of VR Training solutions, we believe that the developments in this area are going to provide us with some significant opportunities over the next ten years.