Enterprises are increasingly turning to virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to provide better, more immersive training. Tayla Ansell reports
Instead of staring at a whiteboard and listening to a tutor for hours on end, more and more employees are being asked to don virtual reality (VR) headsets from the likes of HTC Vive and Oculus and step into a virtual world where they can familiarise themselves with the equipment, processes and customer interactions they are likely to encounter at work.
According to ABI Research, the VR training market is set to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 140% over the next five years, from $216 million in 2018 to $6.3 billion in 2022, as more enterprises realise the value of providing a 3D virtual environment to simulate real-world scenarios.1
VR should not be confused with augmented reality (AR), which , in combination with smart glasses and head-mounted cameras, adds an overlay of information to a view of the real world, enabling someone to give instructions or training to a worker as they carry out a task, such as repairing machinery.
Early adopters of VR tend to be in industries with high-risk working environments, such as manufacturing, construction and healthcare, as it allows them safely to simulate dangerous situations.
Hervé Fontaine, Vice President of Virtual Reality B2B and Business Development at HTC Vive, points out that while VR training is especially useful for situations that would be difficult or impossible to recreate in real-life, such as teaching a train driver how to deal with a tree on the line, it has much broader applications.
“Some of the examples I find most interesting are Simforhealth, who have equipped hospital simulation centres with Vive headsets; SODEXO, who have trained several thousand employees working in restaurants; Bouygues Construction, who are using VR for safety training when in the field; Orange, who are using the tech to train employees to speak in public; and Deutsche Bahn, who are training employees who work on ICE high speed trains,” he said.
Valerie Riffaud Cangelosi, Epson’s Head of New Market Development EMEA, makes the same point about AR and the company’s Moverio smart glasses.
“AR creates new ways to engage with colleagues, customers and the world around us and isn’t limited to just one industry or type of business. It can be used to great effect in a broad range of different sectors, from manufacturing and healthcare to education, retail and entertainment. Smart glasses with AR and head-mounted cameras can increase the efficiency of technicians, engineers and other workers in field service, maintenance, healthcare and manufacturing, to name just a few roles and sectors,” she said.
Cangelosi adds that, like VR, AR offers an immersive experience that keeps trainees engaged and is more memorable and better attuned to the needs of visual learners.
“Training employees with AR technology creates an immersive, interactive experience across multiple senses, which is far more effective than a typical lecture or simply reading instructions. AR offers the capability to increase the depth of the training process and enables users to learn at their own speed. With either on-screen instructions or layered graphics, users can be shown complex processes step-by-step or be given prompts and instructions on a certain task,” she said.
By eliminating the need for physical training programmes and enabling ‘on-the-job’ training, even for remote workers, AR can also reduce the time and resources needed to train staff, which can have a big knock-on effect on productivity.
Getting up to speed
Speed of learning is another big benefit of VR. Researchers at Google Daydream Labs ran a small experiment teaching people how to use an espresso coffee machine. One group learned how to operate the machine using VR, while the other followed a video tutorial on YouTube. The VR users learned faster and better; they needed less training time and made fewer mistakes once they started making coffee in the real world.
The experiment did have some downsides, as Ian MacGillivray software engineer at Google, reported: “No matter what warning we ﬂashed if someone virtually touched a hot steam nozzle, they frequently got too close to it in the real world, and we needed a chaperone at the ready to grab their hand away.”
This suggests that gamification might make people less aware of the risks they could encounter in real life and led MacGillivray to conclude that VR is a useful way to introduce people to a new skill that they can practice and hone virtually, having first tried it in the real world.
An economical choice
VR/AR training might seem like an expensive option, with the upfront cost of hardware (headsets/smart glasses) and the need to develop a bespoke virtual training environment either inhouse, using a solution like Stage from vr-on, or by employing a specialist VR/AR software company.
However, Cangelosi points out that that when you factor in other considerations AR/VR can be an economical choice.
“Businesses that invest in smart technologies, such as AR, to promote further training are saving money by recognising the talent they already employ and upskilling their current workforce, rather than spending valuable resources recruiting new employees,” she explained.
“AR can bring together remote teams so that businesses can communicate effectively with staff in multiple locations, in real-time, interactively. They can visualise everything as if they were all in the room together, which in turn boosts productivity, encourages collaboration, saves on travel costs and helps to maintain an engaged workforce.” HTC Vive’s Fontaine says the time and cost savings can be quite significant when you consider the impact training can have on existing operations.
“VR training offers savings on the operational side. Say, for example, you want to train employees on a car production line. With VR you don’t need to install a real machine for the training; you don’t need to stop the production line either. One large automotive customer mentioned they reduced the individual training time by 30% using VR and were also able to train a lot more employees in parallel,” he said.
VR/AR offers endless possibilities for upskilling existing staff and teaching new hires the skills they need for their role in a safe and engaging way. It’s early days for commercial applications, but as VR/AR technology becomes more advanced and more affordable, it could revolutionise the way employees learn across all industries.
Volkswagen takes VR and AR for a spin
In 2014, car manufacturer Volkswagen trialled AR, using Epson’s Moverio smart glasses to overcome the drawbacks associated with traditional training. Moverio BT-200 smart glasses were used to overlay complex content onto real-life scenarios, making it possible to relay information about the object being examined and highlight points with virtual arrows and other superimposed images without compromising the trainee’s angle of view.
In 2017, Volkswagen rolled out VR technology throughout the Group, using the HTC Vive Business Edition headset and developing its own applications for production and logistics training and the creation of virtual environments for workshops. In addition to training, the technology supports collaboration, enabling employees to participate in meetings from anywhere in the world.
Sodexo cuts food waste with VR
In September last year, outsourcing company Sodexo enhanced the safety training of kitchen staff in Shanghai with VR. To help them learn to recognise and correct safety risks that could lead to cuts, burns, trips or falling objects, Sodexo employees wearing HTC Vive headsets step into a virtual kitchen and help a virtual chef carry out his duties. The use of VR has reduced the length of training sessions from one hour to 5 minutes; removed the limitation of space, materials and training staff; and avoided the significant waste of food in face-to-face training.
DHL delivers virtual training
Logistics company DHL is using the Oculus Rift to provide employees with an immersive learning experience. Thanks to a virtual learning world built by British virtual reality start-up Immerse, users can move between a DHL aircraft, facility and renewal area and interact with numerous objects in the scene. Oculus headsets and handsets allow users to simulate moving and stacking boxes, operating cargo lifts and meeting virtual avatars of colleagues from around the world. Rick Jackson, Global Head of CIS DHL Express, said: “This is about simulating complicated scenarios in our operating environment. It provides a realistic way to practice skills and interact with global colleagues using role play and gamification. We see VR as a powerful tool for employee engagement and motivation. This is the first stage of a three-year process of embedding VR at the centre of how we build and train teams across our global network.”
1 VR in Enterprise Training ABI Research, 2017