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Virtual Opportunity

17th November 2021

Virtual reality and other technologies are here, when will we start to see them in our workplaces?

We’ve all been through that powerpoint, the one where you’re welcomed to the company and shown a powerpoint of things to know, and keep you safe.

Yes it has a purpose, but it’s also old.  There are better ways to do orientations, and with the development of virtual reality, augmented reality, and a mixed reality technology, when do we start to get a headset with a guided tour of the hazards and protective measures rather than sitting in a stuffy, dark room watching a powerpoint presentation?

Reality and Technology

Photo by Eugene Capon from Pexels

We spoke to Cameron Hacault of Haland learning about how COVID-19 influenced safety training.  Here’s perhaps another way in which training may be influenced significantly. Technology often has a way of creating efficiencies in how we do things, adding comfort, or improving safety.

Can we imagine life without automated machinery, heated seats, or retractable lanyards?

Virtual, augmented, and mixed reality technologies are technologies that immerse users into artificial digital constructions.  They create completely fictitious or blended fictitious and real world environments and are typically used for entertainment, or education. The technologies while different in delivery, are based on stereopsis, our ability to perceive depth.

These technologies adapt to our minds ability to perceive subtle differences in the horizon in front of us, and how each eye interprets this data, to see images on screens we’re using.

While these reality technologies have been around for quite some time (theres an argument that Da Vinci’s explorations with perspective were a start), and are probably familiar to some of us, it’s probably worth having a look at each of the existing technologies.

Note the You Tube examples provided may have ads initially.  Don’t mistake the ads for the technology demonstration!!

Virtual Reality

  • A fully immersed experience using a headset that allows the user to view a fully digital environment
  • The viewer will see completely digital surroundings, and be able to interact with the environment around them
  • A worker using virtual reality might be asked to operate a mining haul truck using a virtual reality program
  • Example here of an electrical training plan in a virtual environment

Augmented Reality

  • Uses goggles or a smartphone
  • Overlays virtual images and objects overtop a real-world environment
  • Think of a fighter pilot with goggles that show a digital readout of direction, altitude, fuel etc. on his visor
  • If you remember the Pokemon Go craze, that was also augmented reality using smartphones to view overlayed characters
  • Example here of walking through an event and finding digitally tagged key information

Mixed Reality

  • Requires goggles/glasses or other visual aid (mobile phones can be used as well) to overlay and anchor digital objects
  • Blends what you’re really seeing in the real world, with digital overlays more elaborate than augmented reality
  • May have a complete digital construct overtop a real world image, for example looking at the CN Tower except what you see is Mount Fuji where the CN Tower should be
  • Or interactive images such as alien ships landing on the street in front of you and being able to move the ship with your hands
  • Example here of using mixed reality to prepare an exhibition space

Safety and Reality Technology

Currently some organizations are using some of this technology to help with training.

This may include virtual reality programs to replicate machinery, working at height, or construction tasks.  Australia’s tagSpace has created technology that allows city spaces to have augmented reality solutions for festivals, city walks, historic tours etc.

It’s not hard to imagine a power plant taking new recruits on a site walk for an orientation to the facility with augmented reality overlays of  exploding generators, falling workers or other relevant hazards.  Or an equipment operator getting mixed or virtual training prior to stepping into a vehicle.

Clearly some workplaces have more hazards and risks than others, and equally some workplaces will have more interest in these technologies than others, but what advantages are there to this type of digital technology when it comes to training?

There are a few aspects which come to the forefront when considering these technologies over traditional classroom training.

  • Some evidence indicates better retention for trainees
  • More engaging and involved than other forms of training
  • Eliminating the requirement to put trainees into hazardous environments
  • In some cases analytics can be captured on trainee performance
  • Ability to train people in remote locations

So as much as some of us might prefer a technology based orientation like that to a powerpoint in a dark and stuffy room, how realistic is it that we’re going to see such orientations and other training more commonly in place within the workplace?

Coming To A Worksite Near You

Virtual Reality, Augmented, and Mixed Reality may not be as far off as you think in your workplace.  Simple programs can be designed for a few thousand dollars, and can go up from there depending on the complexity of the program.  I’m intrigued to see where this technology can go beyond training.  Can it be used to reconstruct an environment for incident investigation?  What about site walks and safety audits, can they be enhanced with this techonology?

Key considerations if you’re interested in integrating this technology are finding practical applications within your organization, and developers that can understand your need, provide quality products, and have experience with what your looking to do.  While in some cases a mobile phone can be used, from a safety perspective this may not be appropriate, and equipment such as headsets or glasses like Google Glass and Microsoft HoloLens may be preferable.

The costs of development, training, and the interactive equipment to deliver this type of workplace training may also be barriers in some cases, as well as demographic challenges where instruction on using the technology may not be easily transferred or understood.

The virtual, augmented, and mixed reality technology is improving, and making it’s way into our workplaces.  For now training may become more accessible with these technologies, and a reality in our safety worlds sooner rather than later, but I think the opportunities are limited only by our opportunities to see them.

There’s a good article from Safety & Health that explores this topic in more depth.

Posted in: Safety Blog