Virtual Danger, Reality Safe; Phil Jenkins of GATC Ltd explores how undertaking potentially hazardous tasks in a VR (virtual reality) environment allows operative to practice otherwise hazardous activities, and gain valuable expertise, without placing themselves or others at the sorts of risks that would occur if practiced in the real world.

We all want to go about our daily work without risk of illness, injury or worse. There are, however, some tasks we are required to undertake which are hazardous by their very nature, and require controls put in place to negate those hazards from ever becoming reality. Gas engineers in particular are amongst a group people who are often required to work in this way and require a safe environment within which to practice applying controls and actions they will ultimately deploy in the real world.

HOW NEW IS VIRTUAL REALITY

Virtual reality is not a new concept; the gaming world has been exploring this innovative digital reality for a good few years now, but often as a form of entertainment rather than for a more practical use in the world of work. In an earlier IGEM publication there was a very interesting feature which described how VR and MR (mixed reality) can be used to rehearse construction challenges, linked to our transmission and distribution network operations. Now there is a new VR experience available, which targets downstream activities carried out by gas engineers who work inside our customers properties. GATC Ltd has collaborated with CEMET at the University of Wales to develop a virtual reality experience that allows gas engineers to enter premises where there is a gas emergency unfolding.

HOW DOES IT WORK

This virtual reality world, powered by digital technology, facilitates carrying out emergency procedures to contain the risk of an incident; but within a completely safe environment. Engineers (users) can fully explore all aspects of the unfolding emergency, taking which ever actions they deem appropriate at the time, but even if they fail to prevent the incident; in this virtual reality world they won’t come to any harm.

The VR experience is fully immersive, using computer aided environments and assets that react and re-orientate themselves, each time the user moves, looks up or down, or carries out and action with the VR handset. The user feels like they are within the real environment, even though they are contained within a virtual reality bubble, with the dangers around them appearing to be very real, but of course they are not.

The VR headset is switched on and after following a few simple steps, the user enters the world of the virtual reality premises, often described as the house of horrors. There is a set of instructions displayed before the user, within the headset, that informs them how to use and get the best experience from the VR training tool. There’s even a rehearsal house built into the device, which allows the user to navigate through a house and experience using the hand-held control, ahead of taking part in the live VR scenario itself. The VR handset allows the user to navigate into the house, along hallways, landing areas and into all the rooms. The user can even exit the rear of the property into the rear garden. When ever the user looks up or down, turns left or right; the headset adjust accordingly to display exactly what the user would see in the real world. At the beginning of the VR experience the user can even adjust the height of the viewpoint, to match their own physical height in the real world.

When a user views (locates) and item or appliance within the property, using a trigger button on the VR handset allows them to select and test each item or appliance. Based upon the outputs from each test, the user can decide what actions to take, with the ultimate aim of preventing an incident and leaving the gas installation in a safe condition. If at any time the user fail to secure the situation accordingly, the VR tool will let them know, via a mock incident within the headset or via notified outcomes at the conclusion of the scenario.

Each user will likely experience different outcomes, however, the safety messages are the same for all. After completion of the initial VR scenario, users go through a debrief and enjoy the opportunity to learn from their experiences; exploring how they might have worked differently and maybe adhered more closely to industry recognised procedures. Once they have enjoyed the opportunity to gain new learning, or perhaps refresh their existing knowledge; users can experience the VR live scenario for a second time, deploying what they have learned to achieve improved outcomes.

Industry awarding body ‘Bpec’ are currently working towards a post VR training test of knowledge, with the potential of a level III certificated qualification for candidates. This will underpin the training experience, the knowledge they will have gained and support an individual’s ‘Continual Professional Development’.

TRAINING THE NEW WAY

The digital world of VR changes our whole thinking about they way in which we can train our employees. Up to now trainers might have used power-point presentations, normative documents, chalk & talk, supported with example components and possibly non-live test rigs. The use of live environments usually being too hazardous to risk using in training. The world of VR changes all that, allowing engineers to experience all the facets of the live environment during training, but with none of the risk. In the VR world, all the assets are digitally created with a high degree of reality that very closely mirrors the environment engineers encounter whilst carrying out their day to day work activities. Training in this way will better prepare those engineers to ultimately work more effectively and safely, so that on those rare occasions at work when the risk becomes reality their actions on site can mitigate the risk, preventing a ‘real world’ incident.

 

 

COVERING ALL THE BASES

Virtual Reality training can be developed to suit a wide range of work activities, which can be conveniently broken down into individual training modules and events. Employers can also be given the option to be fully involved in the end to end development process of their desired VR training experience, to ensure each VR experience fully matches the learning outputs required. This can range from refining an existing VR scenario to suit their needs, right up to building their own unique VR scenario from the ground up. Using GATC Ltd as an example, employers can access the technical support and coding expertise required to deliver exactly what they want.

Groups of engineers and staff can benefit from experiencing more than one VR supported training event, each event designed to provide expert training and assessment in the various areas of competence an employer requires of their employees. The VR tool can also be used to test the ongoing knowledge, in areas whereby engineers and staff might have been trained years ago, but had little opportunity in their day to day work to keep that knowledge fresh in the mind. Each event can be supported by a test of learning / knowledge; certificated and therefore recognised and recorded for ongoing continual professional development.

It is clear to see that over time, employers, supported by recognised organisations such as IGEM, GATC Ltd, Bpec and others, can develop a library of VR training scenarios, which can be used to assist train both new employees and refresh the knowledge of existing employees. Otherwise hazardous situations can be created in a digital world, which engineers and staff can use to practice their skills without exposing themselves or others to risk.

 

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

The digitally created environment is fast becoming a reality in it’s own right, recognised as a very valuable tool for training gas industry operatives into the future. It is a technology that is available now and facilitates safe training environments that additionally removes the considerable costs involved with building and maintaining multiples of live training facilities. Virtual Reality training can be carried out in existing training rooms, third party sites and smaller conference rooms. The training can be taken to convenient locations for each locality of a business, reducing the inconvenience and costs associated with employees travelling longer distances to attend training.

Engineers and staff will be able to rehearse otherwise hazardous tasks in a safe environment but at the same time enjoy he full range of activities they are expected to deploy when carrying out such tasks for real. The opportunity to practice in a completely safe environment will both improve safety and reduce costs. Digitally created VR tools are a new addition to training and one that should be embraced by all, underpinning other exciting innovations becoming available to us all in the current and future gas industry. For more information contact GATC Ltd at info@gasassess.co.uk , 01443 841720, and ask for Phil Jenkins or John Forrest. Also visit www.gasassess.co.uk

Visit the GATC Ltd stand at IGEM’s Gas Utilisation conference, in Solihull on April 3rd this year. You can try out a demonstration VR tool for yourself and discover the benefits that the VR training tool can bring to your own business. Phil Jenkins, John Forrest and representatives from Bpec will be at the stand and can explain more.