VRAI: VR Simulation Training for High-Risk Environments
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Niall Campion, Co-Founder & Managing Director and Pat O’Connor, Co-Founder & Managing Director
Ever wondered what if you could capture and codify your gut instincts in an unpredictable, high-risk environment? The possibilities are limitless, aren’t they? The story behind VRAI’s inception follows a similar trail.
It was just another day in Syria, during the recent Civil War, when an unarmed observer team, led by Pat O’Connor, was patrolling through a village about 30 kilometres south of Damascus. The team regularly passed through this village, but that day something felt off to O’Connor. Having spent 20 years in the military serving as an operational unit commander, as well as in leading organisational and communication strategy development, he learned to trust his intuition. O’Connor decided to take a U-turn at the roundabout in the centre of the village and return to the patrol base. Less than an hour later, news broke out that an Al Qaeda affiliate attacked that village and the policeman at the roundabout was beheaded. As the news of the gory violence did its rounds, O’Connor and his team discussed how the entire event was a close call—how did they know there was something wrong? Was it a fluke? Was it “spidey senses” or gut instinct?
Months later, when O’Connor returned from the tour of duty (United Nations Peacekeeping operations), he couldn’t get the idea of codifying and training gut instinct out of his. He teamed up with his close friend Niall Campion to establish VRAI with a mission to help large organisations, whose activities are risky, remote or rare, to train in a more authentic, memorable and measurable way. Campion holds 20 years of experience in the creative industries and is a former director, editor and VFX artist, leading creative teams in film, TV and exhibition design projects internationally. The duo worked closely to innovatively combine VR, AI and IoT technology in order to turn the idea into a reality. “Our niche is in combining authentic virtual training environments with cutting-edge data capture and analysis capability. This includes applying machine learning to large simulation data sets to help predict and improve performance. Our customers are leading organisations like IAG in Heathrow Airport, the United Nations in Somalia and Fortune 500 pharma companies,” remarks O’Connor, co-founder and managing director of VRAI.
At the heart of VRAI is HEAT— Hazardous Environment Awareness Trainer—a data-driven VR training platform. HEAT allows employees to “practice by doing” but in an authentic virtual reality simulation.
Our niche is in combining authentic virtual training environments with cutting-edge data capture and analysis capability
This reduces risk, reduces the need for employees to travel to training centres and reduces the draw on rare equipment or instructor resources. Through standardised training that is being verified by the system instead of needing an instructor the platform provides assurance that empowers employees to train remotely. O’Connor explains, “Our data pipeline allows accurate performance reporting and can link to an organisation’s learning management systems (LMS). Our business model is to provide Simulation as a Service (iSaaS); this equips customers with a scalable training solution without the need for expensive real-world equipment or instructors.” The team at VRAI also uses the HEAT platform to capture, codify, and measure other previously subjective concepts in order to improve training outcomes, safety and job-skills fit.
O’Connor mentions that a majority of Fortune 500 companies leverage traditional methods to deliver training, which is often ineffective and inefficient. When people train using the HEAT platform, VRAI gathers approximately 100k data points per minute. To put simply, the company measures “who you are, where you are and what you are doing.” Taking these unique capabilities a notch higher, VRAI is also currently working on integrating physiological sensors to understand “how you’re feeling.”
This data is then used to codify what an expert looks like. These benchmarks allow assessing trainee performance, measuring training effectiveness as well as selecting and streaming candidates earlier in their training. The data also helps improve the effectiveness of training, leading to faster, more effective and engaged learning, which, when done at scale, can result in more efficient learning. Users can create trainee profiles to track progress over time, coupled with xAPI enabled LMS integration for training management.
O’Connor highlights, “In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, the shift towards remote working tools has been rapid. Once the crisis abates, that expansion of the digital workplace is likely to continue. Video conferencing has allowed businesses to continue functioning and people to continue interacting, but it has its limitations, especially for those who operate in risky or remote environments.” With its platform, VRAI leverages its inherent data capture capability and provides deep insights into how individuals learn and perform. These VR training platform can be used to reduce the risk for employees and ensure they are confident in performing the tasks that they will face in reality.
VRAI’s HEAT platform proved particularly beneficial for IAG Cargo’s freight hub in Heathrow, Ascentis, which handles over 500,000 tons of cargo every year. From lion cubs to daffodils, gold bars to flu vaccines, there’s not much they haven’t handled there. It is as long as six football pitches and has over 2000 employees; evidently, it is difficult for individuals to understand how it all works. There isn’t available time to show each employee, new or old–around the warehouse, what their colleagues do or how they do it. The challenge was to create a safe, memorable and efficient way to onboard and upskill employees in IAG Cargo’s Ascentis freight handling centre in Heathrow. Implementing the HEAT platform, VRAI offered the client a VR experience to show both new and existing staff how a piece of freight moves through the Ascentis facility. There were interactive stops throughout the experience, providing information, training and safety awareness. With the help of the platform, IAG Cargo has been able to identify and measure the key factors affecting its KPIs. Employees’ understanding of the operation has increased from an average of 5/10 to 8/10, and tour timings have reduced from 90 minutes to 15 minutes. All in all, by partnering with VRAI, IAG Cargo is now able to help its people perform better, more safely and in a more memorable way while also improving employee onboarding, engagement, and efficiency.
VRAI is all about building solid foundations on which it can grow and scale. The company believes in creating shared value for its customers, investors, employees and community by adopting the ‘Triple Bottom Line’— focusing not just on the profit, but also on people and the planet. As part of this effort VRAI are pursuing B Corporation status, as well as leading change by creating a gender balanced company and sponsoring Ireland’s first ever female only software development apprenticeship to help increase female participation in the industry.
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