Virtual Reality Training and Risk Minimization
The new technology lets you learn to operate—or crash—construction equipment without the risk
Training new employees is a major cost for nearly every industry, but especially in construction, where training can mean burning fuel and taking a piece of machinery out of operation—plus the increased risk of a trainee damaging it. Simulating the training process with software can help eliminate many of these downsides. Now many companies are offering simulation programs that can teach users how to operate large machinery in a controlled environment.
Since virtual reality sets entered the mainstream half a dozen years ago, many industries have looked to the technology to simplify some of the traditional challenges associated with simulators, which can be large, expensive and hard to transport. Products like the HTC Vive or the Oculus Rift offer a compact and portable alternative by combining multiple bulky monitors into a single, compact headset, all while offering better immersion and improved depth perception at a fraction of the cost.
For Immersive Technologies, a company that advertises itself as the world’s largest supplier of mining equipment simulators, the jump to VR was quite natural. But the company has also realized that the potential applications for VR extend well beyond the cab of a wheel loader or excavator. Their VR team has been developing a series of training programs that teach new workers everything from how to spot a hazard to how to evacuate in an emergency. The programs often look and act like video games, allowing the user to walk around a virtual mine site and make sure their virtual coworkers are wearing proper safety equipment or that the worksite is ventilated properly.
Some companies are even using the product to instill the value of adhering to safety standards in trainees by showing them what can happen when things go wrong. “They have a seatbelt convincer,” says Cian Dobson, visual database department manager at Immersive Technologies. “It’s basically a frame with a seat on it that slides along a rail for about 4 meters and hits the end and stops abruptly. The guys would normally wear a blindfold. What we did was replace the blindfold with a VR scenario so they think they’re inside of a truck that’s driving down a tunnel and then they have a collision which is timed to hit at the same time as the seat impact at the end of the railing.”
Even just allowing trainees to virtually experience what it’s like to go down into a mine can have benefits. “The experience can be quite arresting,” says Product Manager Karen Joseph. “They can induct people in the VR so they know if they’ll freak out going underground.”
That is not to say the technology is entirely without disadvantages. There are still times when traditional simulators are a better option. Plus, the solutions offered by VR are bespoke, requiring a software engineer to build a custom program for each new training scenario. “About two or three years ago as VR started picking up momentum, we had every man and his dog wanting VR training for something just because it was shiny,” says Dobson. “We really had to run all those requests through a filter and find out if it really was the best training method for what they needed.”
In addition to the financial and safety benefits VR offers, Joseph says that the tech is also drawing interest from younger people who’ve recently been less inclined to pursue construction and mining jobs. “It really gets the young people in and interested in a way that shows the industry is moving with the times.”