Virtual reality shaping the future: SC&RA comment January 2020
By Joel Dandrea06 March 2020
The merger of real-world industry training and virtual reality has all but overlapped in recent years as the technology becomes smarter and the financial benefits continue to make sense for more companies.
As we enter a new decade where technology will shape and influence an even wider expanse of operational efficiency, we know that virtual reality (VR) won’t completely replace real-world training, though it will certainly impact almost every aspect of business.
One thing we know is that VR simulators can attract younger workers to the industry and get them up to speed faster. Crane and rigging and transport companies are using VR headsets, simulators and other machines that mimic real-world jobsite conditions. It is for everything from operating a heavy-haul load through icy conditions to picking a load and placing it precisely on site to manoeuvring a forklift through a busy warehouse, and countless scenarios in between.
While crane and other heavy-equipment operators have been training on simulators for decades, the visuals have traditionally been displayed on screens. The immersive experience offered by VR technology has important advantages over old technology, allowing users to practice in a safe, less-expensive environment while comprising a controlled setting where all measurements and results can be accounted for.
Construction and transport companies have got a bad rap over the years for being slow to adapt to technology, and many believe that this reluctance could be a factor in why young people have been similarly slow to gravitate towards the trades in general – at a time when industry desperately needs them.
It has become apparent that tech’s spillover into the trades is creating wider generational interest – from an assortment of apps, drone technology, 3D simulators, communication systems, wearables, and certainly VR.
Virtual reality training, specifically, allows a company to compete with the more mainstream careers that much of the Millennial and Gen Z crowd covets – especially when company representatives can offer it via job fairs and seminars within minutes of meeting a potential hire.
But VR tech isn’t just for the young recruits. The beauty of its adaptability is that it can also be used to train up current employees and experienced older workers. VR crane simulators, for example, can mimic weather conditions like high winds or logistical challenges within an upcoming project so that, when the operator arrives on the jobsite, he or she has run through the pick(s) countless times and is ready for just about every scenario.
Relatedly, on the transport side, 360-degree street scenes projected inside the headset will help drivers learn and prepare for numerous roadway challenges – from other drivers to pedestrians to potential hazards, and more.
In addition, technology-based driving training such as VR could help carriers combat a persistent driver shortage by expanding the pool of candidates for trucker job openings. Companies might be more willing to hire new graduates of truck-driver training schools if simulations could help trainees improve their skills.
Down the road, VR will continue to play ever-important and expanding roles in the trades – even long after students have committed to vocational education. By incorporating VR into the classroom or in-house training, users gain the ability to practice and master essential skills without risking real-world equipment or payloads or putting anyone in danger.
As for the educators, VR learning allows instructors an opportunity to receive immediate feedback on user performance. They can then provide users with the targeted assistance they need. The result is a uniquely personalised approach to learning, which better prepares students to enter challenging vocational industries and assures experienced industry veterans greater odds at success before the job even begins.