Vy and Vobling - Fighting fire with VR

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A new fire fighting simulator under development at Norway-based transport group Vy removes unnecessary risk for both trainee and instructor while offering scenarios that would otherwise be impossible to reproduce in real life, according to its head of development, Ole Johnny Haugen.

Quick read

➨ Vy Group, one of the largest transport groups in the Nordic region, has teamed up with Vobling, a subsidiary of Nordic extended reality company Bublar Group, to develop a fire fighting training simulator in virtual reality

➨ The fire fighting simulator will train users in the use of fire extinguishers and tactics for putting out flames on a train

➨ They will also learn about the dangers of smoke inhalation and how to avoid it

The story

Vy Group, one of the largest transport groups in the Nordic region, has teamed up with Vobling, a subsidiary of Nordic extended reality company Bublar Group, to develop a fire fighting training simulator in virtual reality (VR).

Haugen, who is head of development at the Vy Competence Center, explains the potential of VR for this kind of training: “VR simulation is very useful for this kind of training in many different ways. It gives us the opportunity to train in a safe environment. There are no real flames or smoke that could harm the trainee or instructors.”

“VR also gives us the opportunity to train in a simulation that is as close to the real life experience as possible. It is nearly impossible for us to create this kind of realistic scenario in real life. With the use of VR, we can develop scenarios with both flames and smoke in our own recognisable trains. It also gives us the possibility to focus training specifically on what we need.”

“We can develop our own scenarios so that they focus on different risks.”

There are also cost and environmental benefits to consider, says Haugen. “It is cost effective. We only need a 6m by 6m space for VR training, compared to a railway carriage, a place to park it and the cost of waste handling. It is also environmentally friendly, due to there being no smoke or gases released into the atmosphere, or powder or chemical waste needing to be handled.”

The fire fighting simulator itself will train users in the use of fire extinguishers and tactics for putting out flames on a train. They will also learn about the dangers of smoke inhalation and how to avoid it.

Haugen concedes that “we have lost the element of real heat exposure and smoke”, but what Vy has lost in realism, it has gained in risk reduction. He says: “VR are giving us a safer and more recognisable scenario to train in.”

Vive Pro Eye is ‘currently the best headset out there’

The educational tool for staff training has been developed for HTC Vive Pro Eye.

Anders Ribbing, chief executive officer of Vobling and head of enterprise at Bublar Group, explains why this platform was chosen for the fire fighting simulator: “HTC Vive and Valve currently offer the best tech to track objects in VR. We utilise this when tracking the fire extinguisher in our training scenario. HTC has also been a valued partner for us and the Vive Pro Eye is currently the best headset out there that’s got great eye tracking, with okay fidelity and that’s priced at a point that makes it scalable for virtual training.”

He adds: “We have yet to apply eye tracking in the fire fighting simulator but in the next development phase, we will most likely apply foveated rendering in order to enhance graphics, and also visual inspection points and possibly also artificial intelligence/machine learning that based on eye-tracking data will score performance in relation to how experts put out fires.”

Ribbing is enthusiastic about the potential of VR for training and education. He says: “Research shows amazing numbers for how much better we learn in VR compared to traditional methods. Using HMDs to create immersive experiences for training and validation, organisations can now reach a new level of employee training.”

“There are many strong arguments for why virtual training should be adopted sooner than later. By integrating virtual training into existing educational programmes, organisations will increase training quality, become more sustainable, improve their safety, save costs and strengthen their talent acquisition and retention.”

Vobling has also built a state of the art virtual training platform together with Swedish national railway operator SJ.

“This has been rolled out and is now live in 14 locations across Sweden,” Ribbing explains. “Furthermore, we are developing a training excellence offering targeting staff.”

Does Ribbing anticipate developing training and education experiences for other mediums?

He says: “We can provide access to VR training via mobile, tablets, desktops and also utilise augmented reality (AR) as an extension. However, we do believe that VR is the most powerful medium when it comes to training, but it can be enhanced and made more accessible when users can gain access with any device.”

“We foresee more usage of AR in areas such as service and maintenance, troubleshooting and step by step instructions and in education rather than training.”

Image credit: Vy and Vobling

This article originally appeared in Issue 1 of VRWorldTech Magazine

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