Duke Energy to sell in-house VR training programme as a service - Main

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The Duke Energy natural gas business unit will realise savings of approximately three hours in training time per technician per course through the use of virtual reality

Quick read

➨ Called Virtual Crew and using Oculus Quest 2, the programme can be customised to suit the needs of any energy company
➨ Industrial Training Services has been brought in to pair interested clients with the service and provide its compliance tracking solution
➨ Existing virtual modules that will be available in Virtual Crew include natural gas leak detection surveys, line purging, joining plastic pipe and electric substation inspection

The story

Fortune 150 company Duke Energy is so thrilled with its own in-house virtual reality training programme that it is offering the service to other energy companies.

Called Virtual Crew and using Oculus Quest 2, the programme can be customised to suit the needs of any energy company, across both the simulated field training and qualifications gained. Duke Energy is also able to offer its own existing virtual reality training modules.

Industrial Training Services (ITS), a woman-owned small business headquartered in Kentucky, USA, that provides training products and support to the energy sector, has been brought in to pair interested clients with the service and provide its compliance tracking solution, OnBoard LMS, so that completed virtual reality training will be documented just like any traditional written exam, performance evaluation or training record.

Brian Weisker, chief operations officer of natural gas (where the virtual reality training programme was first introduced internally) at Duke Energy, says: “The benefits of VR training are clear. With our experience in this area, Duke Energy now is uniquely positioned to offer informed, customised VR programmes tailored to meet the needs of energy companies both large and small.”

He adds: “ITS, with its history of providing innovative service dedicated to the energy industry, is the perfect choice to help us expand this training to energy companies nationwide.”

Stephanie Balmer, president and chief operating officer of ITS, says: “Virtual Crew is a natural extension of ITS’s history of innovation, using technology to simplify and enhance worker training.”

“ITS is thrilled to work with Duke Energy to add virtual reality to our portfolio of industry-leading training and curriculum, and we look forward to future product enhancements that continue to meet the needs of the energy industry.”

Virtual reality emerges at Duke Energy

Members of the team designing virtual reality training content at Duke Energy, including software engineer Matt Prangley and lead technical artist John Diasparra, joined the company in 2019 after developing video games, demonstrating the potential for consumer-focused virtual reality professionals to move into the enterprise market.

They are a part of the in-house XR lab, which includes manager Elizabeth Escobar-Fernandes and technical lead John McGuire, charged with supporting a broad initiative to use innovation to work toward achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Duke Energy to sell in-house VR training programme as a service - XR Lab
John McGuire, Matt Prangley and John Diasparra

The XR lab began developing virtual reality content in the natural gas area and have since moved on to training wind technicians how to operate substations and helping natural gas technicians to qualify to inspect rights-of-way for leaks and hazards.

Duke Energy has been so impressed with the results of virtual reality training that it is prepared to offer the service outside of the company. Its natural gas business unit will realise savings of approximately three hours in training time per technician per course through the use of virtual reality, and forecasts annual savings of more than $500,000 in operational costs, including travel and instructor expenses.

Other benefits include speed of training, with technicians trained through virtual reality able to perform tasks three times faster than technicians receiving classroom-based training.

Duke Energy also says that virtual reality training provides users with an immersive and interactive experience, an opportunity for sensory reaction, real-time feedback, and increased focus.

Weisker concludes: “Since introducing the Virtual Crew programme to employees in our natural gas business unit in 2020, Duke Energy has continued to develop engaging, immersive virtual reality training. Building on that success, we’ve expanded the programme to include training for the company’s electric employees.”

Existing virtual modules that will be available in Virtual Crew include natural gas leak detection surveys, line purging, joining plastic pipe and electric substation inspection. Duke Energy says content can also be developed for non-utility scenarios, such as active shooter response.

Companies interested in Virtual Crew can enquire via virtualcrew@duke-energy.com.

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Images: Duke Energy

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