How VR is pushing the boundaries of immersion in training

Virtual reality (VR) was first introduced in the early-mid 1990s by the gaming industry with the aim to transform the way we play video games — creating a new and immersive experience that goes beyond the traditional 2D screen

Fast forward ten years and some of the world’s largest gaming developers, including Oculus and PlayStation, began offering next-generation VR headsets that set off a new wave of application development.

Unsurprisingly, the technology is still mostly known for its use within gaming. However, VR applications are now being used across a wide range of industries, and in fact, the use of VR within training environments is now considered one of the fastest growing applications — even more so than gaming.

The technology has been proven to deliver enhanced realism and immersion, in turn helping to improve concentration. And in fact, knowledge retention has been shown to improve by up to 75% through the use of VR.

VR saves the day

There’s several interesting examples of companies who are using VR to train employees, but one that particularly stands out is Walmart’s use of the technology. Walmart is currently using several different VR training modules as part of its Walmart Academy training curriculum, which includes active shooter training. This type of training is designed to provide both civilians, as well as those in law enforcement with the knowledge and skills required to appropriately handle a potentially deadly scenario.

The VR headsets place users in life-like scenarios that would normally be impossible to carry out otherwise, and enables staff to monitor the performance of users — including their accuracy of holding a gun and their ability to negotiate — allowing them to identify any areas which need improvement.

In 2019, a Walmart store located in Texas experienced a deadly mass shooting, which unfortunately took the lives of 22 people. However, if it hadn’t been for the retailer’s active shooter VR training, this number could have been dramatically higher — as staff were quicker to respond and handle the situation as best as they could.

Another interesting example is Boeing’s use of VR to train new engineers. Building an airplane is a difficult and complex process, with no room for errors. One of the main challenges when carrying out the construction process is the wiring, as significant lengths of wire are laid out across the plane, and must be precisely connected to avoid failures in testing and costly delays if an issue arises.

The company currently uses VR to help teach its engineers with the complex wiring process by creating VR images of the body of the airplane, with details and exact visuals of where the wires need to be connected.

Since using this new training process, Boeing has managed to cut its total training time by 75% per person, and basic mechanic training has been reduced by a month with the help of VR.

Taking VR to the next level

While these examples prove how effective seated VR experiences can be in training employees, there are certain limitations. Behavioural science research has shown that emotion has a substantial influence on the cognitive processes in humans, including perception, attention, learning, memory, reasoning, and problem solving. Emotion has a particularly strong influence on attention, especially modulating the selectivity of attention as well as motivating action and behaviour.

While seated VR experiences can make situations more believable, it may not make the experience real enough to tap into our emotions and provide the most effective learning outcome. In addition, the seated VR training cannot provide the physical practice and muscle memory needed to fully retain a large amount of information.

So how can we ensure training is as immersive and believable as possible?

Enter location-based virtual reality

Location-based entertainment — or LBE— refers to a physical space that hosts virtual reality experiences where users are able to physically interact with the immersive environment in a more engaging and richer way than traditional seated VR methods.

While the technology is becoming increasingly popular within the gaming industry, businesses are starting to reap the benefits of LBE-developed technology for training purposes.

Unlike traditional VR methods, LBE can support a large number of simultaneous users in much bigger venues, with extremely precise tracking to provide a more realistic and immersive VR experience. A good example is Dreamscape Immersive — a brand new storytelling medium where multiple visitors have the chance to step into a story and watch it unfold around them as they explore cinematic worlds — a shared experience that embraces the human desire to explore and learn.

As it stands, LBE training is being deployed within safety-first organisations such as the military, emergency services and mining organisations where employees regularly face potentially dangerous situations. By using LBE, staff can re-create such scenarios in the most immersive, believable way possible to ensure they are fully prepared for any potentially life-threatening situations.

NYPD, for example, is using LBE or active shooter training. Unlike the VR training being used in Walmart, NYPD employees are able to feel and shoot with real weapons — while real participants or actors can play both sides to add unpredictability.

What’s next?

While LBVR is predominantly being used across safety-critical applications, we’re likely to see this particular method of training receiving traction across a wider range of industries in future.

While seated headset training is always going to be more affordable, and is continuously growing in popularity, the emotional connection associated with LBE means that this is the best solution for those looking for the most immersive, realistic experiences for better learning.

About the Author

Tim Massey is Engineering & VR Product Manager at Vicon. Academy Award®-winning Vicon specialize in developing accessible motion capture technology that delivers the most precise, reliable data in any movement analysis application. It serves customers in the life science, Engineering and VFX industries.

Featured image: ©Dave Brinda