A couple of Perth businesses are leading the use of virtual reality in corporate training, with applications from the boardroom to a mine site.
For the first time ever, the Olympic Games have been broadcast in virtual reality, with the Seven Network having partnered with Samsung to offer 100 hours of coverage of the games in VR and 360 video.
This year’s Winter Olympics were also the first time that athletes used VR as part of their training regime. The US Olympic ski and snowboard teams used VR simulations to get ‘mental access’ to the course before the actual event, according to Troy Taylor, the team’s director of high performance.
It’s a pretty compelling example of how VR can be used by organisations and teams to improve performance.
And it’s something we’re also doing quite well here in Western Australia, with two local companies offering bespoke VR training for corporates.
Training for leadership
Perth-based Being VR (recently rebranded from Diversifly) provides diversity and leadership training for corporates using the Samsung Gear VR platform.
The company recently completed a leadership-training program for Bankwest, which uses VR to provide an immersive coaching experience. Filmed using 3D 360 video and actors, the participant views various scenarios from a fly on the wall perspective. A voiceover narration provides the coaching material to guide the participant through the experience.
Being VR founder and CEO Lucie Hammond said VR offered a number of advantages over traditional training models (often involving role-playing in front of others, which was something many people found intimidating).
Because employees could take the equipment home and try it in private, she said, it allowed people to ‘fail forward’ in a safe and confidential environment.
The realness and customisation of the experience also offered advantages over traditional training videos.
“The immersion and believability of the experience trigger learning and have a level of impact that 2D video just doesn’t have,” Ms Hammond said.
“It’s a whole multi-sensory experience.”
For example, the Bankwest project was filmed in the offices and meeting rooms used by staff, making the experience all the more realistic.
Overall, Ms Hammond said, VR bridged the gap between taking knowledge from intensive theory into day-to-day work life.
Training for safety
Another company innovating in this space is Perth-based Sentient Computing, which creates bespoke VR safety training for the resources sector. Using 3D modelling with Unity and the HTC Vive platform, Sentient has created VR simulations of high-voltage switching and underground explosives.
Sentient is also working with a major oil and gas company with large floating facilities.
It has recreated one of these facilities – nearly half a kilometre long – entirely in VR.
Power of interactivity
While 360 VR offers immersive experiences, they are not interactive. VR experiences created with Unity, on the other hand, offer true interactivity, with responsive environments that users can engage with and modify.
This interactivity is key for the safety training offered by Sentient as it allows users to have simulated experiences of the actual tasks and workflow they will carry out in the real world.
This allows for a sort of extreme version of the ‘failing forward’ Ms Hammond describes, because it means users can learn from trying and failing, without facing serious injury or death.
It also allows for the trainer to watch trainees in VR and safely assess their competency.
According to Sentient CEO Doug Bester, one of the surprising aspects of these simulations is that the VR experience is equally powerful for the people watching as for the person doing it.
Normally VR is seen as a solitary activity, with one person using the device at the time, alone.
However, Mr Bester said if a VR expert was used to demonstrate, with team viewing the experience on screens in the same room, the team could watch as the expert went through the tasks, explaining as they went.
The team could ask questions in real time and actually see as the expert walked them through the answers, and showed them exactly how something was done, rather than abstractly talking about it, he said.
Mr Bester recommends those working in the VR space avoid the usual dedicated, separate VR room. In Sentient’s new offices in the Perth CBD, he puts his VR equipment in rooms where many people can watch and engage on screens, taking turns with the headset to maximise the experience.
“It’s actually a really powerful collaboration environment,” Mr Bester said.