“One of the great attributes of Location-based Virtual Reality is the ability to provide a collaborative experience for a group setting, such as role-playing scenarios with a mix of real and digital characters, or in unusual or dangerous settings. This opens up opportunities to teach scenarios more practically in a more immersive and completely new way,” says Mark Finch, CTO, Vicon, in an exclusive interview with EnterpriseTalk.
ET Bureau: As we learn to adapt to changing working environments, having a strong and reliable skills base has never been more important. In the face of these changes, is now the time to embed innovative ways to support skills development – and is location-based VR revolutionizing corporate training?
Mark Finch: Location-based virtual reality (LBVR) technology is uniquely placed to address skills development in a number of roles. Skills development is going to need a seismic change in response to how we now work together, with training time more at a premium than ever.
VR technology generally has a number of benefits due to its immersive nature, helping to aid concentration and memory retention, reduce training time and measure success automatically (especially via biometrics), as well as helping to bridge the gap between theoretical and practical training.
However, consumer VR tech is ill-suited to tasks that enable and support skills development as they tend to be more collaborative, require the use of tools, or involve active tasks requiring use of the full body. Location-based Virtual Reality has been developed to provide highly immersive experiences, enabling and encouraging collaboration and full body tracking.
Now that this technology has matured and proven in an entertainment context, we are working with our partners and are seeing growing interest in the technology for training purposes from the military, emergency services and the education sector.
ET Bureau: Is location-based virtual reality capable of enabling new flexible workspace business models? How can this technology assist in lowering costs and other adoption barriers?
Mark Finch: As LVBR has been introduced to market in the consumer space it has been optimized for maximum throughput, with the focus on increasing ROI, for example, getting as many people through the experience with as little touch points/overheads as possible.
The LBVR business model is different from that of the typical consumer VR model. With LBVR, you only need to build/design the experience once and then you can replicate that same infrastructure across different locations with ease. Although it typically requires more up-front investment than a classic VR setup, when you have the infrastructure and business model proven once, you have the ability to carry out Location-based Virtual Reality experiences at a greater scale, with minimal on-going usage costs.
A recent VR study by PwC examining the impact of using VR in training in fact discovered that learning through VR is the most cost-effective way of learning when it is carried out on a large scale. At 375 learners, VR training achieved cost parity with classroom learning, but with 3,000 learners, VR costs became 52% less than if it was delivered in a classroom.
ET Bureau: Can VR training in the workplace improve employees’ soft skills and also lead to increased collaboration?
Mark Finch: In addition to the above studies measuring the impact of VR on soft skills training, one of the great attributes of LBVR is the ability to provide a collaborative experience for a group setting, such as role-playing scenarios with a mix of real and digital characters, or in unusual or dangerous settings. This opens up opportunities to teach scenarios more practically in a more immersive and completely new way.
ET Bureau: Employers today are grappling with how to manage a fully remote workforce. Can you give us some examples of how location-based virtual reality can assist firms improve their training programs to make them more suitable for remote working environment?
Mark Finch: I would not look for LBVR to solve the COVID-19 working from home push, but more in the ability to truly connect co-located or remote teams. LBVR has the ability to connect large groups of people together in the same virtual space, regardless of where they are located.
The location of these LBVR volumes does not need to be near the places where the training would normally happen either. You can essentially bring these scenarios to populated areas, allowing employers to recreate training scenarios that are either exotic, and require expensive travel, or very dangerous to expose untrained staff to.
This opens up a wide range of potential opportunities to safely, and cost effectively, train new employees in these challenging scenarios, whether it is recreating a combat scenario for military training or training a mechanic or engineer on an oil rig.
There are also no limitations to the number and types of simulations you can run in any particular volume. Dependent on the company’s needs, the same company could have one volume running multiple experiences at the same time. For example, an automotive manufacturer could have an experience to train their assembly lines on how to assemble their cars, and a completely different experience that trains a pit crew how to service a race car during an event.
ET Bureau: Early adopters have capitalized on VR in recent years, but as training time continues to be hard to come by, will we see VR take centre stage in more diverse environments moving forward?
Mark Finch: In a similar way to how we saw 3D gaming help to develop new tools 20 years ago, such as 3D design tools, VR-based entertainment is the proving ground for a completely new way to deliver training both more efficiently and, perhaps more importantly, in a way that is more impactful for employees.
The concepts that are being worked on now are incredibly exciting and will help to demonstrate the impact of this technology to a wider audience.
While there are still challenges to overcome, including the ability to develop content economically, and a skills shortage due to demand from other industries such as entertainment, the early market adoption in Location-based Virtual Reality proves that the business models are profitable and the solutions are scalable.
Mark Finch has a Master’s Degree in Biomedical Engineering and founded IMeasureU in 2013, which was acquired by Vicon in 2017. Mark recently relocated to Oxford, UK from New Zealand to join the core Vicon development team as Chief Technology Officer. When building IMeasureU he focused on core values and principles around culture and product, which is directly mirrored at Vicon. Mark is excited to explore and push the capabilities of how technology will shape the future of all things motion capture.