By Raj Raheja, CEO, Heartwood

At times, technology articles overstate the potential that Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) offer for training, as low cost headsets and devices are commercially available and relatively easy to deploy.

By now, all services of the military either have deployed or are the in process of developing VR/AR based training exercises.

The U.S. Navy hopes to save $1 billion by incorporating AR technology into their shipbuilding process (through Newport News Shipbuilding). By adding the 3D component of augmented reality to the traditional 2D approach, shipyard workers can quickly understand and perform tasks like placing studs in a bulkhead or steel panel, saving hours per person/task daily.

On the Operations and Maintenance side, virtual reality training is being deployed for Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) crews, providing critical, real-time feedback.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, although there are some lessons to be learned and caveats to keep in mind, as experience is gained.

Many teams want to start deploying (or trying out) VR/AR-based training without accounting for fundamental training needs and lifecycle considerations. This siloed approach will stall and limit project or program ROI.

Here is an effective roadmap that companies can follow from the start, when deploying visual and immersive training solutions:

1. Plan for Training + VR/AR, not VR/AR + Training

VR/AR must be additive in the training lifecycle, not siloed – as a tech innovation available to only those few with the specific hardware on hand. Approximately 80% of the cost involved in creating immersive VR/AR Operations & Maintenance training content can be re-purposed across many platforms – like web, mobile, and laptops. This is an effective approach rather than launching an application, as a standalone.

The training application captured in the video below focuses on UH-60 Black Hawk maintenance technicians for overhaul procedures. The cost to migrate to VR after developing the 3D simulation – represented only 20% of the original investment!

Recommendation – Training teams should conceive (and design) with 3D interactive simulation in mind first, as it gives workers the same benefits as VR and will be accessible to everyone. It lacks only the truly immersive quality VR lends and will set organizations up for success with AR and VR, as the hardware & headsets needed to experience them become more commonplace.

2. Protect against False Starts & Blind Alleys

Here are some key insights gained from various Program experiences:

a. What happens to AR in the dark? It doesn’t work! Try telling that to the field service technician trying to figure out what step to perform next – at 10 pm outdoors

b. What percentage of people who tried VR suffered from a form of dizziness or nausea? Almost 35%! (As latency in the hardware lowers, that number will reduce)

c. What happens when the AR/VR hardware runs out of battery power or is missing cables? Yes tablets, laptops and phones have the same issue, but we are used to carrying the appropriate chargers with us or they’re relatively easy to come by in a pinch. Single-use devices like VR/AR hardware might be forgotten and the workforce may be caught unprepared, with no access to critical training content.

Recommendation – While deploying VR/AR is part of the visionary innovation cycle, avoid letting workforce training depend on it exclusively – especially when they routinely carry other devices that can act as access points to the same content.

3. Deploy for Universal Access

Here is a trick (but true) question – What is the best camera in the world? The one you have with you! It’s no surprise that Smartphone camera photos now overtake SLR photos by a massive margin. And, it’s always in your pocket, fully accessible.

Similarly, virtual reality using peripheral technology like touch-based haptic devices or extra hardware might make the training experience more ‘immersive’, but will only cater to fringe applications. The mass adoption of simulated training will be on devices people already carry.

A basic tenet: Find out what the technicians carry in their pocket or bag, and then design around that experience.

Rather than deploying a ‘near 100% immersive training experience to only 10%’ of the workforce, deliver flexible, modular content to 100% of them, all the time. As an example – if they happen to have a VR headset – then go unconventional, otherwise have the technician practice the procedure with their fingers on their tablet app, anywhere in the world.

Recommendation – VR/AR is great for training but with a little bit of planning, training investment can be more scalable and portable, with all of the access points covered – PC, laptops, Web, Mobile, Tablets and yes – VR and AR!

Moving Forward – Choosing between VR and AR

Three common challenges we hear from training teams are –

1) Avoid having dedicated training equipment and assigning production machines for training leads to costly downtime

2) Geographically distributed technicians don’t have access to equipment to train (or re-train)

3) Novice or junior technicians need to practice in a safe environment without risk of hazard or equipment damage.

Both interactive 3D apps (on tablets/laptops) and VR apps can solve the three problems above, with different degrees of immersion. AR will NOT. By definition, it augment’s the live view of the operator or user requiring them to physically be in front of the equipment so it can overlay information. That requirement brings us back to the three problems.

So how should AR be used? Not in the training phase per se, but in the live performance of the task itself, where it’s real value is unlocked. Industry Experts call this Performance Support or Job Aids.

Here is the ‘CRAWL-WALK-RUN’ order – Use interactive 3D and VR first, so that crews anytime, anywhere can receive the needed training to be ready. Following that initial phase of virtual training, AR apps can take over in the field assisting the operator with real-time clues. To further solidify this approach, it helps that the development work for Interactive 3D can be re-purposed for Immersive VR, which further can be re-purposed for Assisted AR.

VR = Learn-the-job

AR = On-the-job

The deployment cycle should look like this:

Final word

Staying on top of the latest training trends to keep our workforce competitive is certainly smart thinking, but jumping directly from a classroom to virtual reality might exclude a lot of them. By following the roadmap above, teams will be able to deliver next-gen training immersion and retention, while still being accessible via multiple methods.

Raj Raheja, CEO, Heartwood

2121 South El Camino Real, Suite 100

San Mateo, CA  94403-1859

Phone: 888-781-0274



Raj provides a leading voice for the future of 3D Interactivity and Visual technologies. He co-founded Heartwood and focuses on the company vision, culture and new technology development.