HTC VIVE hardware, coupled with 3-D printed fire extinguishers, helps to prepare workers for numerous fire-related situations and improve response time.
Firefighting is a critical skill, and hugely challenging to teach because of dangers, costs, locations, and access to experts. Vobling, part of Bublar Group, set out to build a detailed virtual training application which would help to maximize the ability to remotely train every employee in any business. This included recreating realistic physical locations, fire physics, and developing a 3D-printed fire extinguisher with embedded VR trackers to train people with the exact equipment they’d have in real life. National railway operators Vy and SJ in Norway and Sweden, respectively, have already deployed this training across their workforce to support employees.
The Challenges of Fire Emergency Response
Fire emergency training is of critical importance to any business, especially to service industries who are entrusted with the wellbeing of customers. Training employees is a huge challenge—the very nature of fire emergency response is hazardous and potentially life-threatening, even under controlled circumstances.
Complex training processes require:
- A substantial budget
- A bespoke physical environment
- Specialized tools
- Training personnel
- Time commitment from everyone involved to attend a physical location
- Disposal of hazardous materials
Traditional methods involving a controlled fire also brings up sustainability issues around the chemicals used and the quantities needed—not just for the fire but also for the extinguishers. Urban areas usually have regulatory restrictions for real fires as well.
All of this can be difficult for a business to deploy training across a workforce, which becomes even harder when it’s a large-scale enterprise. Vobling set out to change all of that and support training for every employee in any business.
Putting Out Real Challenges with VR
Vobling’s experience and research has proven that immersive interaction is essential in training scenarios, because learning by doing is incredibly effective. Building a VR-based training tool was the natural answer to the problem as real-life training now can be digitalized with virtual training solutions.
VR allows for realistic visuals and Vobling has the ability to build customized VR environments which look identical to a real, physical location. Literally, any real-world location can be rebuilt accurately in 3D so employees can train wherever their business operates. No matter how diverse a location—inside a factory, retail store, airport, etc.—anywhere can be replicated.
VR also solves the problem of access. Instead of having to transport small numbers of employees to a certain location at a specific time for one scenario, anyone can wear a VR headset and can instantly go anywhere in the world to tackle multiple situations. Even office buildings or a train station concourse—a feat previously impossible to do without either shutting down the location or building a replica—is can be implemented.
Vobling chose HTC VIVE’s platform as a base because of its develop and integration versatility. Realistic visuals and accurate tracking were a paramount concern, but with so many physics-based challenges also in mind, it was important to build on a platform that was flexible and well supported.
Recreating Reality for Better Virtual Training
There were still some obvious challenges which Vobling had to solve first. The biggest was how to recreate fire. The physics are complex because of characteristics to consider, like turbulent and buoyant convection, radiative heat transfer, combustion, smoke, and more. That’s before you consider how fire behaves differently with certain source materials—like wood and plastic—and how it affects the spread.
Vobling’s developers and technical artists created a dynamic fire system which not only creates a natural-looking fire and smoke, but allows for complex interaction with realistic responses. Thanks to this dynamic fire instructors can train employees in a multitude of VR situations, demonstrating exactly what happens when things go right, as well as when they go wrong—something that’s nearly impossible for people to safely witness first-hand in real life. The fire system is also built in a way which makes it easy to implement in any 3D environment.
Another big challenge was equipment related. How can someone learn by doing if they’re only using standard VR controllers? For fire emergency training it’s critical that employees know how to use the actual extinguishers in their workplace.
Vobling iterated and refined hundreds of 3D printed mounts for fire extinguishers which have multiple HTC VIVE trackers and controls built in. Now, when a trainee releases the lever and pulls the pin on the Vobling extinguisher in their hand, the VR representation mimics it—keeping immersion and accurately tracking each action while ensuring people learn how to use the right equipment. Bringing physical objects into virtual worlds only ads to the immersion and realism of virtual training.
Tackling fire emergency training from a fresh angle meant Vobling had to look at other ways it could leverage VR technology to enhance training. HTC VIVE Pro Eye allowed Vobling to integrate advanced tools like eye tracking. This helps instructors analyze training performances by recording and measuring where trainees look during an emergency situation. Something which is very difficult to do in a real-life training session.
Instructors can now provide more detailed feedback to trainees on how they evaluate an emergency and where their focus should be. Trainees can then immediately benefit by trying out the new tips to improve their skills.
The railway industry has already leapt on the benefits of Vobling’s solution. From high-footfall, fast-paced environments that combine people and transport to dozens of different scenarios, operators can now train staff in every possible situation thanks to the VR Fire Trainer.
“The level of learning is high, costs have been reduced substantially, it’s safe and the realism of training in the application is fantastic. We have also managed to attract new clients by showcasing the fire emergency simulator.” Ole Jonny Haugen, Head of Development at Norwegian Railway Operator, Vy.
Vobling continues to deploy its fire emergency training tool with an eye towards building across the world as it makes critical training easier than ever before.