Training in an alternate reality

Riaan Graham, Ruckus.
Riaan Graham, Ruckus.

A video released by General Electric (GE) in 2017 shows a technician wiring a wind turbine control box. As videos go, you'd be forgiven for wondering why it made for gripping viewing. The answer lies in the technology - the technician used two different methods to achieve the same goal. The first was the usual way, following company instructions manually. The second saw his performance improve by 38%. Why? Because he was wearing an augmented reality (AR) headset that overlaid instructions onto the box while he worked. The percentage is impressive, especially when held up against the dimming light of skills availability in South Africa and the relentless demand for trained people to handle increasingly complex tasks and industries.

GE is not the only organisation to unwrap the benefits of technology in training. Boeing found a 25% increase in productivity when harness assembly was undertaken by workers wearing AR headsets, while Lloyd's Register saw impressive results with its virtual reality (VR) training simulator - the company had a 23% increase in bookings for its training courses in industry health and safety using the VR solution. Both Deloitte and Microsoft have invested in the concept of gamification to train staff and improve productivity.

"Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR and VR), combined with data analytics, can allow for faster and more efficient training and skills development," says Gerard Slee, director, Telebris Lab. "Companies such as BMW use AR to train service engineers, allowing them to understand faults and fixes without the need of a service manual. BMW also uses AR to cut costs during prototype phases to allow engineers and designers to collaborate more effectively."

As the minds behind the next BMW behemoth collaborate in the virtual world, they assess various parts and design options before the car is even assembled, which leaves more room for experimentation and that dreaded marketing word, innovation. It will also, hopefully, address the flashing light error that seems to affect many BMWs on South African roads...

Inside the mind

Microsoft's Hololens, designed specifically for the enterprise space, is an AR headset that is currently being used by numerous organisations to enhance the training experience. A company called SEA, for example, is using this technology to train their ship's officers and provide them with more input when they are working at night or experiencing poor visibility.

"Companies such as BMW use AR to train service engineers, allowing them to understand faults and fixes without the need of a service manual.

Gerard Slee, Telebris Lab

LUX Walker is a tool developed for the architecture and construction industry, which opens up a new world for those who want to explore the design of a project or even walk through it from different angles and places on Earth. Clients can see their build on a scale of 1:1 and this can potentially eliminate issues around areas of the project before the money has been spent. It also gives students and professionals a space within which to explore different architectural concepts and solutions.

"AR also allows for medical training to become more interactive and immediate," adds Slee. "Trainee physicians can use the technology to instantly apply their understanding of theory and the real-world consequences, without the consequences."

Even with some of the issues that pepper the VR realm, such as VR sickness, these technologies are not leaving the trendy stage any time soon. Their value has been too easily shown in a variety of industries and settings. If anything, these issues are challenging designers and developers to create even more inventive solutions that could change the face of skills development forever.

"The integration of eye-tracking technology in VR will support most training and development applications," says Slee. "This feature will allow for higher accuracy in skills development and VR interaction. It will also show, by seeing where a person looks during the training, how efficiently and accurately they performed in the training exercise."

It is likely that both AR and VR will continue to become even more adaptive, capable of creating individualised learning experiences that suit specific people and criteria. The differences in how people learn and the speed at which they learn can impact results, so by creating systems that can intelligently learn themselves, and alter responses based on specific triggers, the learning experiences will become far more effective.

"By seeking a deeper understanding of human behaviour, success modelling and neuroscience, human analytics tools such as personality profiling tools can provide deeper insights into personal development," says Tricia Jones, owner of Capacity Builder.

Wired into success

Phil Lotter, director, Piilo Group, adds: "Brain computer interface technology represents a growing field of research with the application to enhance human abilities through a seamless connection between the user's brain and technology. The initial focus is in the medical field to assist patients with neuronal rehabilitation for serious injuries, but it's expected to have wider applications."

Whether invasive or non-invasive, and while reminiscent of more than one sci-fi flick, these technologies could potentially allow for individuals to learn skills that previously they would not have been able to. There is scope for training people who have suffered a brain injury, or need to overcome specific mental challenges.

"Another example of its potential is in the creation of smart workspaces that integrate with AI and virtual assistance to assist users with complex tasks, collaboration with peers and more effective ways of communicating in business," says Lotter.

So how exactly will these technologies transform how the business trains and upskills its employees on a realistic level? While brain implants and neuroscience sound fantastically brilliant for the future, it's the skills shortage of today that the organisation wants to address.

"Corporate South Africa and the government have to urgently implement radical innovation if we're going to give the economy the kick it needs," says Jason Haddock, the CTO of Sea Monster. "Innovation isn't about inventing things, it's about how we work and throw out the rules. Old-school training that sticks people in a room to listen to boring talks versus interactive game training, for example. You can already see which solution will guarantee your staff members take in what they learn."

Research has shown that less than 30% of knowledge is retained after a training session. This statistic pretty much renders most training ineffective. If the business wants the training to really make a difference, or actually work, then the applications of VR, AR and gamification have a strong enough track record to make them a credible and viable option.

"AR and VR are very promising as they have the ability to solve issues within the company where skills are concerned and the results are more immediate," says Riaan Graham, business unit director at Ruckus. "By using VR and AR, companies have time and money on their side. Complex skills can be honed and developed in much shorter time frames and at a significantly reduced cost. This allows companies to overcome challenges quickly as well as have an effective and efficient workforce in the market and, in some instances, the company can have a competitive advantage because of the skills and training methods that have been adopted."

This article was first published in the March 2018 edition of ITWeb Brainstorm magazine. To read more, go to the Brainstorm website.

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