edutainment

What Are My First Steps for Introducing VR into my Training Programs?

I've been getting so many questions lately along the lines of "What's the best hardware?" and "Where should I focus my attention when it comes to VR training?" and "Is it worth the hype?"  I totally get all of the concerns and confusion. There are tons of hardware options out there and so many software development solutions popping up. 

It's a daunting, high-stakes task.  You're facing higher-ups who simply say "We need to implement the latest and greatest technology" without much more direction. It's up to you to decide between a mobile platform or desktop solution. It's up to you to decide what area of your training should be the home for your VR testing. It's up to you to figure out how to gain the metrics you need to prove the validity of the new training program. 

To help, I put together a guide with lots of great information about virtual reality in enterprise, useful terminology, and a basic outline for getting your started.  At the end of it, you'll feel much more knowledgable about the technology and will be ready to start making a plan!

If this sounds like a resource you need, just head over here to get started!

 

Training Benefits for Using the Virtuix Omni

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The Omni takes virtual reality to an all-encompassing new place for more than just games and entertainment.  Gamers can feel immersed in the games they play as the device allows them to move their feet, walk and run along with the program. With the use of Oculus Rift to view their virtual world, the Omni places the user right in the middle of the action. But this is just for starters, as there are applications beyond fun and games that can be extremely useful out there in the real world.

The Virtuix Omni looks like a round treadmill, complete with a railing. The pack for 699 USD includes a special belt and shoes to be used with it. Purchase of the Oculus Rift is separate, but necessary to complete the virtual simulation.

The Omni allows for:

  • More interactive remote employee meetings
  • Virtual exhibitions for on the job
  • Simulations of workplaces
  • Increased ease and realistic simulation of training on the job

Particularly for jobs that are more hands-on, is this last point especially relevant. Instead of training EMTs with dummies, they can run to the scene, check the pulse of their charge, load them into the ambulance, and then drive away. They can practice every aspect of their job using the Omni.

Training for a Variety of Job Fields

Some of the other fields which can benefit from practicing job scenarios using the Omni include:

  • Nurses and nursing assistants
  • Doctors and dentists
  • Engineers and those who deal with hardware
  • Production line workers
  • Those who work in retail
  • Clothing designers
  • Architects
  • Artists
  • Office workers who need to tour new locations in advance
  • Those who need to practice sales and marketing scenarios
  • Those who need training speaking before large audiences
  • Training motivational speaking

 

The Training Benefits for Using the Virtuix Omni are Plenty

Any job with a hands-on aspect can use simulation that incorporates feet and movement, as well as the viewing function (from Oculus Rift). Colleagues can demonstrate job functions from a remote location and have the feeling they are in the room together, handing each other instruments and approaching one another. Despite location restraints, they can have the sort of team building and bonding that was previously only possible in person. This will serve to speed up the training process and optimize employee efficiency and cost effectiveness—in saving money on expensive flights, for example.

Virtual reality is a powerful tool for job training that will continue to be optimized as the technology is developed and made readily available on the market. The Virtuix Omni in conjunction with the headset from Oculus Rift are forerunners for improving the on the job training experience and will surely be fixtures on educating individuals in the future.

Edutainment in Corporations: Liven Things Up

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Edutainment is something that we are all quite familiar with, just think back to your youngest memories of childhood programing: Mr. Rogers, Reading Rainbow, Sesame Street, Bill Nye the Science Guy. The list can go on, and you most likely remember them so well because at the time you liked them. Public Broadcasting Casting is known for its educational entertainment for all ages. The concept is now becoming a trend in corporate America. A simple application of edutainment is using animation or interactive graphics in Powerpoint presentations.

The Possibilities of Edutainment for Employee Training

Well-designed Powerpoints that include entertaining design elements are good for short projects or training tasks that don’t over task our attention; but once the amount information begins to rely too heavily on rote memorization, the task becomes burdensome and easily disengaged from. Learning in corporations that require longer periods of time to convey the necessary information can benefit from using different forms of interactive video and animation. Training programs can invest in a creative series of videos that are organized like the chapters of training handbooks. Animated videos don’t need to be the replacement to textual information; they can be supplemental, with the corporation choosing the most important information to include. Pairing videos with text training books decreases the amount of reading so that when the employee does read it is in-between a break by another form of media learning.

Entertaining and Educating Internet Customers About Your Company

Investing in the virtual marketplace is big business now and the website is the storefront. A nice storefront is attractive to customers who have never heard of the product and a good product keeps them inside. A good sales person and manager should know all about the company itself and be able to convey it charismatically and accurately. In the virtual store it depends upon site design and entertaining features like the degree of interactivity and presentation of the information. Anyone with a business wants it to fiscally succeed but also to be known as being a human expression. The entire story should be known to become a part of the community. Successful businesses and organizations become virtual personalities that are relatable and relatively transparent. Edutainment can factor in to developing the virtualized self of a company by engaging successfully with the customer on a personal level instead of solely as a financial exchange.

Gamification within Corporations: Goodbye Casual Friday

What Is This?  

Creating interactive game-styled software designs within corporations looks like it will make work more engaging for employees. As employees we should rightly expect our organization to actively care about creating an engaging environment that doesn’t run us empty; and as administrators of organizations it is also our duty to collaborate with employees. The cliché Casual Friday was once a product of the logic behind boosting employee morale, but it didn’t really stick around long and isn’t applicable across professions. But, the new kid on the block, Gamification, is a lot more promising. Forbes magazine recently wrote:

Given the recent engagement numbers released from Gallup, showing 71 percent of American workers are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” in their work, gamification is finding its way on the agenda of the Chief Human Resource Officer… Gartner predicts that by 2014, more than 70 percent of global 2,000 organizations will have at least one “gamified” application, which can range from mastering a specific skill or improving one’s health. ‘Gamification: Three Ways To Use Gaming For Recruiting, Training, and Health & Wellness’ – Jeanne Meister

Engaging Interactive Programs and Designs

Corporations that are beginning to use game mechanics within all facets of employee relations are beginning to come up with some successful implementations. Target cashiers are now using interactive software as they scan customer purchases - a light blinks either green or red depending on the speed the item is scanned which are scored for optimal time. Marriott International Inc, beginning to create web-based games similar to the ones used on Facebook, as ways to recruit employees and for other companies, employee training programs and yearly skill reviews are also being gamified. The gaming doesn’t deter using merit rewards as incentives for increasing productivity, but they do drastically rework the way the incentives are presented to the employee. Depending on the type of job and task, the job itself becomes part of a game designed to foster fun for the entire workspace while retaining to competitive bent that drives excellence.

With new technology becoming so accessible such as Androids and other Smartphones among the population, developing mobile gaming software can allow companies to create game-like elements of specific work related tasks beyond an employee’s desk or work station. Sales associates and real estate agents would be a perfect example of employees that would be able to stay in-touch on the job while still being outside the main office. While also driving employee performance, gamification allows for companies to distribute monetary rewards in smaller increments over an entire year or season instead of one lump sum.

New Virtual Horizons: Oculus Rift in Training Part 2

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Oculus VR and the Chocolate Factory

Come with me, and you’ll see, a land of pure 3D animation…

The broader technological applications of Oculus Rift are still in a world of pure imagination, but it is one closer to home than we think and not nearly as strange. While it might be some time before the phrase ‘virtual reality’ becomes a part of everyday training vocabulary, there are still common professional and industrial fields, which sound more domestically familiar than military applications, that will benefit from these new types of devices and software development projects. I’d like to take you on a tour through our societal imagination and look at fields closer to our everyday lives that we might find virtual reality training to be integrating soon.

The Everlasting Energy Industry

As our society furthers its technological advancement, the entire system of energy production will require more advanced training for harvesting raw fuel sources, and machining the devices and infrastructure for processing and distribution. The upkeep of our energy industry technology has some of the most dangerous situations workers voluntarily put themselves in. One example in the fossil fuel industry is hyperbaric wet-welding jobs for oil rigs. These repairs are not situations easy to train for without actually requiring commercial diving on-site practice. Unfortunately the environmental risks are so dangerous that training can’t be a safely controlled space for practicing without still having the possibility of fatal errors. Oculus Rift and immersive training software could provide a safe and adaptive way to simulate the necessary scenarios. The idea can be expanded to imagine VR training programs for high-power linemen, allowing them to simulate transformer disassembly and assembly with 3D interactive parts, without actually exposing themselves to the consequences of deadly mistakes.

Dangerous Recipes: Electrical and Chemical Engineering

The daily environment for electrical and chemical engineers is not a hands-on dominant job, but the dangers lurk in the implementation of the system designs. It is difficult to model large scale systems and actually understand all the potential consequences, so it is usually not until the factories are actually constructed that they can be tested. With the aid of immersive devices like Oculus Rift, factory engineers can explore their 3D designs as if they were walking through the site itself.   Training new engineers on virtual reality construction programs can allow for interactive lessons and easier visualization of complex systems. Interactive problems can be created as 3-dimensionally mapped out factory settings and environments that don’t usually lend themselves to easy training access like micro-processor fabrication plants.

The futuristic horizon of the digital age is growing more and more accessible for society at large as public and private organizations continue to invest in VR technology.

New Virtual Horizons: Oculus Rift in Training Part 1

Oculus Rift demo, development  

With the energized backing of the California based company, Oculus VR, virtual reality is getting closer to becoming a common fact of life in a variety of industries; especially considering their recent announcement July 1, 2014: “The first batch of official DK2s have left the manufacturing facility and are making their way to our distribution centers now. We expect to ship roughly 10,000 DK2s from the factory in July…” The DK2 (Developer Kit #2) is Oculus VR’s second generation virtual reality headset, continuing the company’s vision of “immersive virtual reality technology that's wearable and affordable.” With VR developers getting greater access to the devices necessary to integrate their ideas onto a testable platform, 3D animation is going to play an essential role in taking advantage of the new technological possibilities for entertainment, education, military training, and medicine. The horizon becomes seemingly limitless when we consider the always surprising ingenuity of inventors and entrepreneurs in fields unthinkable until now.

Training with 3D Animation

Simulating effective training exercises will be a unique experience with Oculus Rift as developers explore new ways to use the technology. Training programs and methods of learning specific skills that were once limited primarily to textbook work because of high risk and/or expensive requirements for hands-on practice can begin to 3-dimensionally render virtual objects and environments once difficult to include in particular fields like medicine, high-risk construction, combat, aviation, and biologically hazardous occupation.

Oculus Rift: Military Training A couple years back I posted about Flight Simulators and the valuable role they are beginning to play in the Air Force and Navy - noting the importance that they play in developing a pilot’s situational awareness. Well in March this year, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) revealed it is developing a combat project using Oculus Rift called Plan X. Andy Greenburg’s article in Wired magazine wrote:

At the Pentagon Wednesday, the armed forces’ far-out research branch known as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency showed off its latest demos for Plan X, a long-gestating software platform designed to unify digital attack and defense tools into a single, easy-to-use interface for American military hackers. And for the last few months, that program has had a new toy: The agency is experimenting with using the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset to give cyber-warriors a new way to visualize three-dimensional network simulations–in some cases with the goal of better targeting them for attack. ‘Darpa Turns Oculus into a Weapon for Cyberwar’5.23.14

While Oculus Rift isn’t strapped to the head of soldiers yet, it is proving itself as a serious player in 3D animated realities.   The ability for its user to actually turn around in the virtual environment by using normal body motion greatly enhances the user’s ability to interact naturally with its simulated environment.

Flight Simulators- The Wild Blue Yonder for Interactive 3D

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I’ll never forget when my cousins got the NES classic Top Gun. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent playing that game, even though I can never remember getting past the refueling part of the first mission—and of course there were all of the equally impossible landing sequences. The four of us would sit around watching each other play, all with the pre-adolescent competitiveness that the film transfers onto its adult characters (“You can be my wingman anytime”).  But as silly as the movie was and as campy and dated the video game might be, the fact remains that for some, this was their first step towards a career in aviation—my older cousin  later became a Navy pilot himself. And while it’s been demonstrated that video games are helping the military with their recruitment process, it’s also true that digitally driven simulations are revolutionizing the way that the Navy and Air Force train their pilots. I recently talked to an old friend, an Air Force pilot, about what good flight simulators do for pilots these days. My friend flies cargo transports and his job is something similar to what most commercial aviators do. I asked him that since so much of a pilot’s job has been taken over by on-board computers, why would pilots still need training in an advanced flight simulator?

His response was a simple concept: situational awareness. Part of every pilot’s duty, no matter how automated some of that may be, depends on his or her awareness of everything going on in their environment—even if they’re flying a transport that doesn’t require many visuals. And for this, the advanced graphics of flight simulators are irreplaceable. He told me that other types of pilots, helicopter and fighter pilots, have require training that takes them into a wide variety of combat and tactical situations that cargo pilots don’t especially have to worry about, and that especially for these guys, realistic simulations are of the utmost importance. What the advanced graphics of flight simulators do is hone this situational awareness into pilots. To such a degree that he said that the time spent in a simulator gives a trainee experience that previous generations of pilots could only have gotten at the risk and cost of being in the cockpit. What’s more, he said that simulators have become so advanced that many pilots can go directly into service, flying a specific plane, without actually having flown that plane before.

Something that adds to the timeliness of this conversation is that in late June, Lockheed-Martin announced the sale of four of their state-of-the-art F-35 joint strike fighters to Japan, a significant moment because of the new era of aircraft technology this ushers in. And with the stealth fighters costing roughly $200-250 million dollars apiece, it places an emphasis on the need for those piloting these aircraft to be experienced flying them even before they get behind the joystick. For this reason, the plane’s designers have created a “Full Mission Simulator” to train future F-35 pilots.

What these simulators do is place a pilot into a “fully immersive” environment: scale cockpits, fully operational instrument panels and flight controls, and many simulators are even constructed with hydraulic supports (like the roller coaster simulators that were popular in mall in the early 90s) that simulate changes in gravitational pull that a pilot can experience in flight. But the crowing feature of the F-35 FMS and other simulators like it are the sprawling digital displays that recreate the virtual world outside the training cockpit. Clouds, rain, snow—anything that can be seen by the pilot is recreated and even interactive. Recent models are even being fitted with networking capabilities so that pilots can train formation flying from several different places on the globe. Formation flying is an important tactical method of military aviation and can involve combat missions, dangerous take-off or landing environments, and mid-air aircraft refueling, and two pilots in two different locations can train for these situations in real-time. They can see what the other is doing and since the simulations are interactive, the proximity of other aircraft are sometimes even necessary (like with refueling). High-quality graphics of these scenarios is crucial because it gives the trainee priceless familiarity with the visual details.

And while these simulators are a far cry from the 8-bit graphics of my cousins’ old Top Gun NES cartridge, it’s very likely that refueling and landing are just as difficult.

Training Benefits of Mixed Reality Technology

On July 4, 1976, Israeli commandos landed at the Entebbe International Airport, outside Kampala, Uganda, and in under an hour rescued the 100 hostages that were being held there by hijackers. The news of the rescue was met with international astonishment. Without any warning the commandos landed in the in the night, rescued the hostages, and flew back home. Only one commando and four hostages were killed, as opposed to all hijackers and several dozen Ugandan soldiers. A number of Ugandan MiG aircraft were also destroyed. The international diplomatic fervor, which coincided with the US bicentennial, was brought to a screeching halt as Israel thanked everyone and said they had taken care of the problem.

One of the main reasons the mission was so successful was that the special forces combatants chosen for the mission trained for the operation on a reconstructed, full-scale model of the airport. This is how with only a few days to prepare, and despite having never set foot in Entebbe, the rescuers were able to secure the terminal where the hostages were held, use the airport’s fuel facilities, and destroy the squadron of warplanes stationed there. And all this without real-time satellite surveillance.

In their technology quarterly in March, the Economist reported on a variety of training and research platforms—from computer programs to full scale combat training facilities—that are making the tasks of preparing for and carrying out dangerous missions less costly. And not surprisingly, these technologies rely heavily on 3D rendered environments that allow their users to interact with the generated content in varying degrees.

One of the technologies, an interactive program akin to a military computer game, allows strategists to digitally recreate actual battle scenarios (like the Entebbe raid), which can then be reviewed from any angle and replayed with environmental and situational variations that might demonstrate how things could have gone differently. Among the others are simulations that try to test the responses of decisions made by officers under amounts of psychological duress, a NATO network that links 3D training devices, and an interactive virtual battlefield that allows soldiers to train and observers to scrutinize—all with a minimum threat to the people involved.

With a number of countries around the world investing in digital and mixed reality technologies, rescue missions like those at Entebbe may seem less and less miraculous as soldiers can be prepared for a broad number of situations before actually being inserted into a combat zone. But hopefully too, this kind of technology might reduce the need for high-risk combat missions in the first place.

Family Night 2.0- Board Games Meet Augmented Reality

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It may not come as a shock that that someone who writes for a tech blog is a board game connoisseur. Monopoly, Risk, and Avalon Hill’s Gettysburg in childhood made way for Afrika Korps, Warhammer, and Axis and Allies in my teen years. And even geekier titles came later still: Squad Leader, SPQR, and Machiavelli. I would nothing more than to turn this blog into a public forum dedicated to the discussion of which are the best board games and why.

But, as anyone who’s ever been snowed-in with their siblings knows, the fun of board games is a sharp, sharp double-edged sword. Anyone familiar with Kramer and Newman’s game of Risk knows, cheating, dice rolls, and the precise interpretation of games rules (rulebooks often seem inspired by IRS tax-code prose) can ruin a game night. How many movement points does it cost to load soldiers onto a troop transport? How many armies can one free-move at the end of their turn, and how far? Is the banker stealing from the bank? A game of Machiavelli I once participated in included an hour-long argument between two players (both lawyers) over the placement of one piece on the board. I’ll never forget them standing in the dining room, all other players cleared, while they carried on over the rulebook like they were in court.

Well, thanks to Augmented Reality all that may be over. In June, Hasbro announced the release of Monopoly Zapped, a game design that not only utilizes digital technology to clear up the rules, but also includes new features that take game-play from the table top into the cloud. The Hasbro website explains that “The iconic game board and properties you know and love are still there, but this game is also packed with fantastic app-enhanced features!” A video posted on YouTube shows a game rep explaining how Monopoly Zapped combines the game board and the smart phone, utilizing such features as a credit card system that keeps track of players’ bankrolls and side games that allow players to, among other things, break out of jail along instead of paying a fine and throwing dice.

Hasbro isn’t the only company jumping on the AR bandwagon. In January, AppGear revealed a mixed reality game for both the young and the young at heart. Foam Fighters is one of a number of games being released by this company and features collectible products that interact with a smart phone. Miniature WWII era fighter planes are purchased in packets with distinct scannable codes and a special bracket is included that allows the user to mount the tiny plane in front of the device’s camera. When the game is started, the smartphone camera uses the real image of the model and its foreground and then combines that image with the enemy fighters and cloudbanks of the game. Naturally, the player tilts the device to pitch and bank and uses the screen to fire the machine guns. It looks pretty cool. In one demonstration video, a game rep said “and now all my childhood dream can come true.”

These are both interesting moves forward for both board-gaming and Augmented Reality app development. And with the AR market growing, especially in smartphone downloads, these trends are most likely permanent. Augmented reality is already being used for a variety of purposes, from education, to shopping, to safety, but this application, combining old-fashioned board games and cutting edge technology, is a little unexpected and surprisingly effective. It causes one to wonder in what other ways AR might be used in coming years. But more importantly, with smart devices keeping track of the score, it’s heartening to think how many friendships might be saved and cheaters kept at bay on those long winter nights.