Virtual Reality in Safety

Guest Blog by Michael MacNaughton, White Rabbit VR

Safety training is a fact of life in modern workplaces. The trouble is that safety training itself isn’t always safe, it isn’t cheap and it’s not particularly convenient for either the employer or employee.

What if there was a magic box that could make all of those problems go away? There is – it’s called virtual reality.

While most people by now have at least some familiarity with Virtual Reality (VR) – even if only through video games – too many in the safety and skills training fields remain hesitant of the technology. This is in part, ironically, because of positive perception of the technology. A common first reaction to VR is “This is cool! This is the way of the future!” … which feeds into the misconception that VR is still new, risky, expensive and experimental. None of this is true. VR, as a training tool, has been around for almost 20 years and its utility as an instructional tool has been extensively documented.

…its importance to training is clear: VR experiences are absorbed at roughly the same level as real ones.

A number of psychological studies serve as a quick summary of the technology’s benefits. Psychologists have determined that the subconscious mind cannot easily distinguish between experiences in the real world and those in virtual reality. While this evokes echoes of The Matrix and Inception, its importance to training is clear: VR experiences are absorbed at roughly the same level as real ones.

Here are just four examples of the experiences of VR training early adopters:

  • Industrial equipment manufacturer Lincoln Electric developed a VR welding training device. In a comparative study, VR students were trained 23% faster and had a 43% higher certification rate than traditionally-trained students. The program also eliminates hazards to students and the cost of consumable materials.
  • Farmers Insurance in California previously trained adjusters at in-person staged houses at centralized training centres. After switching to VR training, the company saved $300,000 per year on travel costs alone and was able to vastly expand the training scenarios presented to students.
  • The U.S. Air Force’s experimental VR fighter pilot training program cut pilot training time in half and reduced the costs and dangers of training students in actual jets.
  • Ford Motors has, for years, used VR to design and test new vehicles without wasting materials or endangering lives.

Some images from a Virtual Reality training course on Forklift operations:

These examples hint at the six major benefits of VR training:

  • It’s more effective. Students learn faster and better, reducing the need for retraining.
  • It’s cheaper. There are many off-the-shelf products available but, even if you have to build a custom app from scratch, companies typically quickly recoup the investment through lower materials, equipment and staff costs.
  • It’s safer. Students can get a highly realistic experience of a potentially hazardous activity.
  • It provides more remote training options. VR headsets can be easily packed up and shipped to any location.
  • It allows for efficient prototyping and testing. Especially in EHS Analytics’ world of big data, VR provides opportunities to try out new systems and approaches safely and cost effectively before implementing them in the real world.
  • It’s cool. In numerous surveys, employees have stated that they prefer VR to any other form of training.  

As the technology of VR has advanced, so has the range of options for training scenarios.

Modern headsets include hand-tracking which allows users to dispense with game controllers and simply use their own hands to interact with the virtual world. White Rabbit VR used this technology to build a forklift simulator in which the users real hands manipulate real controls while their virtual hands operate the equivalent real controls.

The biggest advance in modern VR is called 6DOF, which stands for Six Degrees of Freedom. In layman’s terms, this is like the Holodeck from Star Trek. Users can walk around freely in the real world while interacting with a large room-scale virtual environment. For example, White Rabbit VR is building a virtual confined spaces training program that requires users to get down on their hands and knees to crawl through tubes, tanks, trenches and other confined environments, all at a fraction of the cost of conventional confined space simulator.

Modern VR technology allows for unlimited options for training tools. VR is also currently going through a boom period: it’s one of the lucky industries that benefited from the pandemic as more companies looked for ways to deliver training remotely. This has spurred more competition and more technological advancement. Technologically or economically, there has never been a better time than now to get onboard with virtual reality for your training needs.

Michael MacNaughton is president and managing partner of the Twisted Pair Group with offices in Regina and has been a key contributor in Saskatchewan’s creative industries for many decades. Over the past 5 years through a new division – White Rabbit VR – Mike has been immersed in mixed reality projects including virtual and augmented reality

For further information or to talk about your training requirements, contact Mike (306-721-2590) or Lyle Hewitt – [email protected]