Practical Applications of VR: Training
Although there has been a large amount of buzz around virtual reality (VR) over the last few years, much of the development work in this space to date has focused on gaming. While this is an obvious application to focus on due to the immersive nature of VR, the promise of the technology extends far beyond entertainment into many other fields as well. In this series of articles I will take a look at some of the practical applications of virtual reality outside of gaming, and the companies proving these applications are worth pursuing.
One area where VR holds a great amount of promise is in employee training for enterprises. VR training is especially applicable to use cases where employees gain the most from hands-on interaction in real-world settings. While it might seem counter-intuitive for virtual training to excel for hands-on applications, the reality is that training employees effectively in environments and situations they may encounter is often prohibitively expensive , leading traditional training methods to fall short. For example, if trainees need to be exposed to a hazardous environment like a fire on an oil rig, VR can provide an immersive simulation without needing to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a training exercise.
VR is also an excellent training tool for employees who may encounter complex equipment or situations in remote locations. Think of how much easier it is to train a pump repair technician on all the equipment they may encounter at a remote pipeline site in virtual reality rather than flying them around the country to see different setups in person. Or consider an automotive technician who may need to be trained on dozens of different engine and electronics configurations in vehicles that are updated every few months. Providing updated traditional training materials would be expensive, require a large amount of space, and often be outdated in practice. In situations like these, VR provides a new tool that can effectively and cheaply provide quality training to employees that is always up to date and ready for employees 24/7.
How Effective Is It?
A big question on the minds of many managers is just how effective VR training is compared to traditional methods. This is especially important since although costs for quality VR setups have come down significantly, a single training-ready rig can still be several thousands of dollars and require new virtual materials to be created. The good news is that many pilot projects are demonstrating that VR training is significantly more effective in specific applications than traditional training, delivering extremely positive ROI for adopters.
For example, Talespin, a VR and Augmented Reality development studio, developed and implemented a training program for Farmers Insurance to train assessors on proper evaluation of in-home damage claims. The program utilizes photo-realistic virtual home environments and custom tools for trainees to find, assess, and take action on damaged areas. Employees who completed the VR training program showed increase in decision accuracy from 75% to an almost perfect 95%. In the field, the VR pilot group outperformed their peers by 22% in reduction of operational mistakes, saving the company thousands of dollars per employee in incorrect claims processing. Similar stories are being told by other companies pursuing VR training programs as the benefits of this approach become clear.
What Does It Take?
With clear benefits for VR training, more and more companies will inevitably look to setup their own in-house programs to take advantage of this technology. However, it’s important to note that a quality VR training program requires an investment in both time and money in order to be effective. First, companies need to invest in the hardware necessary to enable immersive, high-quality VR experiences. This typically involves a dedicated room with proper setup where users can move freely and safely, a high-end desktop computer to run VR content, and a modern VR headset to display content to users. Companies also need to carefully consider what kind of training content they want to create and partner with development shops to produce VR-ready content that is both high quality and effective. Organizations without strong in-house training development teams should also consider working with training experts to develop training plans that leverage best practices and have positive-ROI outcomes.
As VR technology continues to improve, advancements are just around the corner in a number of key areas that will impact VR training programs. The most obvious is a reduction in hardware costs, both for computers and for headsets and position trackers. The next few years will also see advancements allowing more capable versions of untethered headsets like the Oculus Go that will make VR training less restricted by specific computing and room setups. We are also beginning to see the entry of mixed reality environments that combine real-world physical locations and objects with VR and augmented reality to create wholly new experiences. Imagine a training simulator for electricians that involves trainees actually climbing a real utility pole, or a safety training simulation for warehouse workers that takes place in an actual warehouse. With the proper technology, content, and partners, VR training has a very bright future for enterprises.