A new kind or training

Simulation technology is safe and cuts costs

Modern virtual reality (VR) technology has its origins in the military, and later gaming industries. Many sectors use VR applications to improve business and enhance workplace safety. Some examples include aerospace, advertising, automotive, broadcasting, construction, entertainment, medical, retail and tourism.

VR in the classroom
Taking a virtual field trip in the classroom (Photo: www.teachinglikeits2999.com)

However the number is growing and the technology is expected to boom. Augmented reality (AR) and VR could hit USD 150 billion revenue by 2020, (AR: USD 120 billion and VR: USD 30 billion), according to a report by Digi-Capital, a company advising AR/VR, mobile and games leaders in Asia, Europe and the US.

Disrupting another industry

Rethinking teaching and learning methods through technology is already bringing benefits to the education industry. VR programmes are redefining the classroom, connecting experts and students across the world like never before, and delivering unforgettable lessons. Workplace training has become far more hands-on and effective, resulting in improved performance and safety.

Standards behind the technology

VR displays follow the technology of smartphones. The hardware is comprised of gyroscopes and motion sensors for tracking body, hand and head positions, small screen displays and fast processors. Headsets continue to advance, thanks to 360-degree cameras, which can produce VR images and video in all directions.

A number of IEC technical committees (TCs) and their subcommittees (SCs) produce International Standards and have testing systems which help ensure the reliability, safety, efficiency, interoperability and quality of the components within this technology.

ISO/IEC JTC 1, the Joint Technical Committee of IEC and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), covers standardization for information technology. ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 24 works on interfaces for information technology-based applications relating to computer graphics and virtual reality, image processing, environmental data representation, support for mixed and augmented reality, interaction with, and visual presentation of information.

ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 29 covers coding of audio, picture, multimedia and hypermedia information. It has published International Standard ISO/IEC 23000-13, which focuses on the data formats used to provide an AR presentation using 2D/3D multimedia content.

Sensors and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) are vital to VR. IEC TC 47 and IEC SC 47F ensure they are reliable and efficient. IEC TC 100 produces Standards which contribute to the quality and performance of audio, video and multimedia systems and equipment and their interoperability with other systems, while IEC TC 110 covers electronic display devices and certain components, such as dashboard touchscreens in cars.

VR to the rescue

One challenge for emergency service first responders has always been how to get as realistic a training as possible, before experiencing live disasters and emergency situations.

Now, state-of-the-art VR training programmes let users immerse into a seemingly real disaster scenario, with background noise, visual and auditory cues. They can create unique settings and incidents which require users to respond to the specific situation. This hands-on approach is far more effective than memorizing check lists for possible disasters.

Technology with benefits

In Australia, Europe and North America more fire brigades, police and ambulance services area using VR training programmes which are:

  • Safe – trainees can practise real-life skills in a safe environment
  • Efficient – individuals and agencies can train alone or together
  • Comprehensive – predesigned modules cover all types of situations
  • Cost effective – special environments don’t need to be built nor people transported. It can be used multiple times and may be offered for free to emergency services
  • Tailored – response agencies can tailor open source platforms to their requirements, infrastructure and available resources

One VR training “game” was created to prepare medical staff being sent to the field during the Ebola outbreaks across Africa between 2013 and 2016. Users could play as often as they liked, learning vital life-saving procedures, which by the time they arrived in the medical camps, would be second nature.

Test driving behind the virtual wheel

As we inch closer to a world of fully autonomous vehicles, more testing and development is still required on the vehicles themselves, and the intelligent infrastructures they will require in order to function smoothly. However, it seems consumers will only adopt this technology on a broad scale once they feel it is safe.

As well as road testing, VR programmes are being used to train drivers safely, allow authorities and car manufacturers to carry out road safety research, and test specific vehicles, such as electric vehicles.

Authorities and planners of smart urban transport systems also benefit from these apps, which allow them to create accurate, realistic 3D models of future, fully smart environments.

How does it work?

VR application software allows programmes to be adapted using:

  • Plug-ins to vary vehicle dynamics systems and controls (lights and acceleration)
  • Eye tracking to measure the driver’s eye position and movement. Researchers can test drivers with some forms of vision impairment to improve vehicle design
  • Imported laser-scanned data for the 3D models and free world maps contain roads, tunnels and bridges used to create the precise 3D models

Captivating virtual lessons

Forget the books, students can don headsets and learn anatomy from inside the body. It’s far more engaging. An innovative VR app lets students “touch” cells, move the 3D images around and gain a completely new perspective.

Equally, VR makes it possible to walk through history, back to a simulated and very realistic point in time, or travel into space and discover the solar system, as if really there. Experiencing, rather than reading or listening to a teacher, makes it more interesting and easier to remember facts.

Cutting-edge pre-surgery training

In the medical world, students may pass the theory, but how well do they perform surgery, and how can this be assessed before they operate on patients?

Merged reality (MR) is the blending of the real and virtual worlds with objects that interact from both. The result is bespoke applications, which improve surgery performance and increase success rates.

For example, at a prominent UK dental school, VR applications let students choose the tooth, the type of surgery and practise as much as they like. They also receive performance ratings. This is achieved using a mirror and haptic dental drill with feedback technology, which enable trainees to sense touch and force in a VR environment, as they operate on virtual 3D teeth shown on a screen. A real foot pedal controls the drill speed and settings, while eye glasses track head movement so that the 3D model on the screen moves relative to the head movement.

Connect and learn

Geography is no longer an issue, as teachers and lecturers beam themselves to audiences in other countries using the latest VR technology.

For example, 360-degree camera rigs and microphones on a surgeon’s head film and stream complicated operations to students and professionals worldwide. The surgeon explains his way through each part of the procedure, as students observe from angles they normally would not have access to. They can also play the recording back multiple times.   

Another VR platform offers interactive virtual trainings on diverse subjects, anywhere, for up to 30 individuals simultaneously. Instructors can observe and provide feedback, in real time, to students who interact with avatars. One way this has been used is for training healthcare workers in Africa for emergency care for infants.