Why Microsoft Uses Virtual Reality Headsets To Train WorkersOn September 17, 2019 by Raul Dinwiddie
Virtual Reality hasn’t exactly seen the booming success in gaming and entertainment that was once expected. “Lets do this.” But this VR has a totally different purpose. Keeping workers safe. “I’m going to go ahead and say evacuate for a half mile.” It could also keep VR alive. Wow, looks like we made the right call. At a time when headset shipments have been down four of the last five quarters. And just a month after IMAX announced it will close all its VR centers this year. Market forecasts predict spending on virtual and augmented reality headsets for training is expected to reach 2.2 billion dollars by 2022. And companies like start-up Pixo VR are taking notice. I think we learned our lesson doing mobile apps — that it’s much more difficult, that the budgets aren’t necessarily there, and this made a lot more sense for us. Put your hand just a little bit into the wall. Pixo VR made the switch two years ago, from creating video games, to creating training modules. Obviously flammable, explosion risk. Like this one, which teaches first responders how to identify and react to explosive chemical leaks. VR provides an opportunity for people to train in environments that otherwise are impossible — far too risky, far too expensive. By simply putting on an HTC Vive headset, workers can experience life-and-death situations that are impossible to safely recreate in real life. Here we go, going up. Like a rickety 15-story construction site without solid scaffolding. I’m really high up. Oh my Gosh. You make a decision. I think I’m going to hook it to this rope up here. And suffer the consequences if you choose wrong. Oh my God. The sensation of falling is so real, it’s immediately clear this experience will stick with me. I died. I’ll remember that fall, and which safety measures I should have followed, far longer than I’ll remember any PowerPoint slide. That felt very real. There’s research to back this up, too. One study found students have 30 percent better knowledge retention two weeks after learning with VR as opposed to traditional education methods. There’s a whole bunch of research that shows that if you are a human and you interact with something in three dimensions, as opposed to just looking at it on a piece of paper, you understand it much more profoundly and fundamentally. It’s just the way that our brains are wired. And there’s a big need for more effective training. Last month the National Safety Council announced that preventable workplace deaths have been on the rise in the U.S. for three years in a row. Essentially, 14 people every day leave their homes for work and don’t come home. This is absolutely unacceptable and there are things that we can do about it. Technology like AR and VR are really going to engineer the human error out of these equations, but we’ve got to start to really do the research to understand what’s working and what just has potential, so that we can give employers the best resources available to help make their workers safer. This year, the NSC will begin a two-year half-million-dollar research project to study the effectiveness of VR and AR, among other technologies, for reducing workplace fatalities. Workplace fatalities and injuries have consistently cost society more than $150 billion every year. So while there certainly is upfront costs in investing in new technologies, those technologies will save companies in the long run with a reduction in fatalities and injuries. One startling number — 713 workers fell to their deaths in 2017, a number that Hurwitz is hoping will go way down once workers start training on Pixo VR’s fall prevention module. And hopefully we’ll see the numbers go down for accidents and certainly fatalities. It’s something that the entire company has got got behind because we know we’re making lives better. Hurwitz is in good company. Most of the major players in the VR space have begun using their software, and their headsets, for workplace training. The return on investment in the commercial space is so profound for some of these key scenarios, like remote assistance, like laying out physical spaces, like guiding someone through a complex process, that these things literally pay for themselves very quickly. So that’s where we’re seeing the most interest in investment right now. Microsoft HoloLens, technically an AR headset, has been added to Trimble hard hats on construction and mining sites to enhance worker safety. It’s used by 20,000 ThyssenKrupp elevator technicians to make sure they’re safely strapped in when making repairs. Chevron technicians wear HoloLens for otherwise precarious oil refinery repairs. And Japan Airways mechanics use it to stand inside a virtual jet engine while it’s running to learn how to safely maintain it. Folks that have a tool belt or a hard hat have not benefited as directly from the digital revolution, so mixed reality, we think, and devices like HoloLens are one of the trends that can really bring the benefits of the digital revolution to whole new categories of people that haven’t benefited before. Even the Army has turned to VR and AR training. In November, Microsoft signed a two-year $480 million military contract with the U.S. government to deliver up to 100,000 HoloLens headsets for use in combat missions and training. And the list goes on. Samsung’s Gear VR headset is being used to train workers on new production lines at Magna’s automotive parts manufacturing plants. DHL is using Google Glass in its warehouses. Pacific Gas and Electric is using heart with 3D VR to teach employees valve assembly. In 2017, Facebook launched Oculus for Business, offering bundles of their Oculus Go and Oculus Rift headsets to businesses like Tyson Foods, Walmart and Verizon. Tyson Foods in particular had some promising results. It used VR modules by Menlo Park-based Strivr to train its workers in safety and hazard awareness. And it saw a 20 percent reduction in worker injuries and illnesses. Verizon stores plan to have 15,000 of its frontline employees put on Oculus headsets, and be confronted by armed robbers, a high-intensity Strivr simulation to prepare them for worst-case scenarios. And now WalMart is using Strivr’s virtual training modules in all 4,700 U.S. stores, training more than a million employees with 17,000 Oculus headsets. A major hurdle that’s plagued VR since its early days — will all those employees get nauseous once they strap on the headsets? With WalMart specifically, and all of our customers, we work really hard to make sure we’re putting you in pretty much a static decision-making moment. We’re not moving the camera. We’re not running you down an aisle. We’re making it very very comfortable for the employee. Strivr has raised $21 million in venture funding and has secured deals to bring immersive learning to companies like BMW, JetBlue, Fidelity and even the NFL. It puts you right on the field. And Pixo VR — its fall prevention module is just the beginning. Now, it’s working on programs to prevent the other three most deadly accidents on construction sites: electrocution, being struck by heavy objects and caught between things. The market is definitely starting to show momentum and change for the better. Over a year ago, 2017, the question was, what is VR? Today the question is, what do you have to buy? And they are also under the belief now that VR training is a great solution for them.