7 ways Virtual Reality is enhancing rail training
Virtual Reality has been around since the 1950s. In 1962, Morton Heilig developed the Sensorama, a multi-sensory technology machine that included a motion chair to bring film viewers a more realistic viewing experience. The Sword of Damocles was next the dramatic sounding but unwieldy first head mounted display headset, so heavy that it had be suspended from the ceiling.
From 1970 to 1990s, the virtual reality technology development was driven by the medical, aerospace, automobile and defence industries for training purposes. With rapid advances and economies of scale being reached in the 90s, saw widespread commercial uptake in the gaming world. The potential of virtual reality was seen early by the tech pioneers, but the lack of advanced hardware and software capability was the only anchor to progress at the time. With exponential technological advances, virtual reality is commanding the limelight once more.
Once seen primarily as a mean of entertainment including gaming and rollercoaster adventures, Virtual Reality, supported by neuroscience and pedagogical research evidence, is finding its niche in the training environment. The virtual reality market is now unlocking doors in industry for its immense potential to deliver a fully immersive training experience, whilst reducing time due to training, and reducing overall training costs.
Training costs in the rail sectors continue to soar. This has been attributed to the extensive requirements of training simulators and rolling stock assets. Virtual Reality provides a cost effective & time effective alternative and leaps forward with an opportunity to deliver similar training benefits without the hefty costs.
VR hardware is more affordable and more sophisticated than ever. There are mobile headsets suited to delivering a basic, fundamental immersive experience, there are high quality graphics PC driver headsets to undertake more complex and interactive form of training, and then there are the hybrid headsets that aim to offer a bit of both worlds.
Lets look at some of the ways virtual reality is transforming rail training
- Reduces the Impact on Assets Requirement
For parts of rail training, real assets (rolling stock and ground assets such as line, signal boxes etc) must be brought out of incoming producing service, so trainees may learn on real assets. Whilst this hands-on training may be effective; due to asset and lost opportunity cost pressures, the trainees only receive limited time to hone their skills using valuable rolling stock. For rail service providers, pulling rolling stock assets out of service means dollars are sacrificed for every second assets are not in service and the very real danger of damage to the same and fixed rail/ground assets junctions, signal boxes, buffers, etc.
A virtual alternative of the real assets opens endless possibilities. Trainee drivers not only receive more training time, they can also be exposed to various high-risk scenarios which are otherwise not as effectively communicated in the conventional training process. The trainees are, therefore, better prepared to deal with high stress and risk situations.
- Consistent Training
Although there is no substitute to real-life work experience, virtual reality training provides an added benefit – the training quality remains consistent, irrespective of location, and the number of trainees.
Because the VR training software is developed via a User Centric Design process (UCD aka the perspective of how training will be understood and used by a human user) it ensures that the training content reflects best practice, and standard delivery for every trainee. There is consistency in presentation and delivery method across targeted staff (Operations, Rolling Stocks, Fleet Maintenance etc.).
- Superior Memory recall and retention
Fully immersive 360 video, as opposed to 2D video, has been scientifically demonstrated to increase learners recall. Virtual Reality offers higher memory recall and retention according to recent studies by the University of Maryland and Institute of Psychology at Osnabruck University, when compared to a 2D video.
With virtual reality, peer reviewed neuroscience research confirms that trainees feel as if they are actually there. Therefore, learning can be achieved without the use of hard simulators, the learning retention occurs just by activating muscle memory in spatially accurate virtual environments.
âVirtual reality displays, such as head-mounted displays (HMD), afford us a superior spatial awareness by leveraging our vestibular and proprioceptive senses, as compared to traditional desktop displays. Since classical times, people have used memory palaces as a spatial mnemonic to help remember information by organizing it spatially and associating it with salient features in that environment.â
Virtual Memory Palaces: Immersion Aids Recall by Krokos, Palisant and Varshney, University of Maryland, 2018
âWe presented participants with either a 360 VR or a 2D video of a motorcycle ride followed by an unannounced recognition memory task 48 h later. Increased retrieval success and delayed reaction times in the VR group indicate that immersive VR experiences before part of an extensive autobiographical associative network, where the conventional video experience remains an isolated episodes event.â
Experiences in Virtual Reality: a Window to Autobiographical Memory by Schone, Weesels, Gruber, Institute of Psychology, Osnabruck University, 2017
- Active Participation
There are few to no distractions in a VR experiences, so the trainees are fully focused on the task at hand and are allowed develop a personal connection with the information being presented. Assessment of trainees learnings may also be recorded and captured on a Telemetry and Control system as a valuable form of feedback and, in future, may also constitute unbiased assessment. Active learning promotes higher level of engagement as illustrated in the figure below:
- Design Validation
Virtual design process saves time and money when performed early in the life of any infrastructure project. By supporting validation and initial design cycle, the virtual process reduces the need for long lead times and expensive mock-ups, assists design validation through user centric approach leading to earlier approvals/ gateway completions. User interfaces can be matured through end-user consultation.
It also gives the project manager(s) the opportunity to engage SMEs and other stakeholder for multiple inputs, therefore, allowing an in-depth collaborative approach.
- Risk Reduction
Training for response to high risk situations has been an area not well served in many heavy industries due to cost and associated liabilities to staff and equipment. However, giving trainees real insight into various possible workplace hazards and incidents, is invaluable.
Virtual Reality is an effective tool for creating virtual hazardous work conditions. Simulation of hazardous conditions in the real world are often too expensive or hostile to recreate on a day to day basis. A virtual environment allows trainees to practice decision-making under stress without being exposed to real risk. Trainees can see the consequences of choices they make, and the impact they can have on their own or others safety.
- Return on Investment
A picture is worth a thousand words. Large sets of information are more easily explained and delivered with the help of visuals. Video is an accelerated form of information delivery in comparison to PowerPoint. VR delivers on the same principles, but with the added benefits of a closer to real experience which improves memory retention and, proven, significantly reduced retraining costs.
Having a virtual asset provides training longevity as upgrading elements of the existing virtual environments are cost friendly. In simple terms, it is a software upgrade. Now lets translate that to a conventional rail training scenario, with rolling stock assets worth millions of dollars. When the rail operator upgrades the hardware, the cost to upgrade the training content is also a consideration.
VR reduces the need to access live rail environments as training updates in VR are:
- cost effective,
- simple to access,
- significantly reduce the potential risks to network disruption,
- minimise IR risk.
All by designing and testing fit for purpose systems in a virtual environment.
What are some of the different VR training scenarios for rail training?
- Train Driver Training
- Console Familiarisation
- Route Familiarisation
- Incident Response
- Hazard and Risks Identification
- Task Behavioural Training
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