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Anglian's VR programme: Finding real virtues in virtual reality

Anglian Water's Steve Havvas tells Robin Hackett why the company's new VR training programme is attracting widespread interest

Steve Havvas is Anglian Water's VR programme managerSteve Havvas is Anglian Water's VR programme manager

Need to know

• Portable networked solution
• No internet connection required
• Up to 35 simultaneous users
• Provides live scoring, assessments and analytics

After 18 months in development, Anglian Water is close to launching a virtual reality (VR) programme that is already generating interest beyond the sector.

Created by Anglian and its partners using technology from Edg-VR, its modules make use of 360° images, videos, CGI features and multiple-choice questions to deliver targeted training across various subjects.

VR programme manager Steve Havvas describes the system, which allows trainees to learn in groups of up to 35 simultaneously, as “unique”.

“Bringing members of staff together through a VR experience not only fosters good relationships during training but it creates an immersive and realistic experience which is invaluable to existing new employees,” he says. “This is a fantastic opportunity to engage staff in a new and exciting way.”

Using a live scoring system, Edg-VR enables trainees to take on challenges and answer questions while immersed in bespoke virtual scenarios related to their work.

It can provide real insight into performance – even checking the user’s eyesight, recording data on where they look and what information they pick up – and any areas for development can then be addressed through traditional training methods.

“The beauty of this scoring platform is that we can always gather more data and, the more data you can gather from your employees, the more tangible results you can get,” Havvas says. “Instead of taking a blanket approach, we can really tailor our physical training based on the scores. It’s in no way, shape or form designed to replace the physical training – it’s there to complement it.”

The early feedback has been good, and Havvas says Anglian Water and partners carried out extensive research to ensure the system delivers on its aims.

“It’s very important to use VR only where it’s relevant,” he says. “If it’s applied in the right way or for anything that can't otherwise be replicated safely, it's a perfect platform."

The system is now in a pilot phase that will run through to December, with the official launch planned for January, and the company hopes to release at least ten modules over the next year.

The first, due to be showcased at various events from October, seeks to improve employees’ driving, testing them on the full process from a vehicle inspection through to tricky situations like navigating backroads, where they will be asked to identify the hazards.

“We’re very close to getting the driving experience approved by RoSPA [the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents],” Havvas says. “As a business, we’d like to put everyone on a safe driving course, but in the real world it would cost upwards of £1 million. Using the VR platform, we can bring that cost down by about 80 per cent, which changes it from unattainable to attainable.”

A module in which the user must use the correct tools and methods to locate a leak is also in the works.

“If we had to train 20 people in how to use a [leak-noise] correlator, it would take us probably two or three days,” he says. “Using the VR platform with the scoring mechanism, we could actually reduce that down to a few hours – we then utilise the physical training on the key scoring areas noted.”

Other modules include safe excavations, streetworks, working at heights, fire safety, and slips, trips and falls, while ‘Ten Steps to Site Safety’ takes the user from start to finish on a dig. Users begin by looking around the site and selecting the right PPE and then face various other tasks and questions, from using a CAT and genny to clicking on hazards within the scenario.

“At the end of the scenario we’ve got ‘When Digging Goes Wrong’,” Havvas says. “We’ve just filmed a controlled explosion to simulate hitting a high-voltage line or a gas main just so we can experience that in a 360°, immersive scenario – it’s the high-impact stuff that people remember.”

Knowledge retention is one of the most significant perks of the VR system. The Research Institute of America found that while traditional, face-to-face training had retention rates around 9 or 10 per cent, the use of e-learning – or electronic educational technology – brought rates to between 25 per cent and 60 per cent. While studies so far have been inconclusive, there have been indications that immersive VR experiences may offer the best retention rates of all.

Havvas says one of the primary reasons Anglian opted to work with Edg-VR, part of school workshop provider Education Group, was its background. The company delivers VR workshop modules to schools in America, Australia and the UK, giving children the chance to learn about dinosaurs or planets, for example, by allowing them to visit a virtual ‘Jurassic Park’ or take off in a spaceship.

“What we were looking for was a company that already worked in the education sector,” he says. “Kids are already learning in that way, using that technology, and Edg-VR has got a proven track record of delivering workshops and VR to kids. They have a robust model, and it was very important for us to utilise that.”

Another key advantage of the Edg-VR system is its portability – it can be packed into cases and requires no internet connection.

“We, as an organisation, cover a large geographic area, and it was important to be able to take this equipment to staff on the ground,” he says.

With the system ready for launch, the next stage is to add further training modules. The current programme has been designed through workshops involving Anglian and its partners, with experts who specialise in the individual topics brought in to help shape the modules.

So far, Anglian has worked alongside partners including Balfour Beatty, Barhale, Clancy Docwra, Kier, Morrison Utility Services, Mott MacDonald Bentley, Skanska, Stantec and Sweco, and the word is getting out about its potential.

“I’ve had a lot of interest from other industries wanting to get involved and utilise what we’ve already done,” Havvas adds. “We’ve had gas companies, Boots, Travis Perkins and even Melbourne Water visit recently.

“We want to get the key message out there to everyone, even those in the water industry: We’ve built this, we’ve developed it, we are confident in its capabilities, so if you want to utilise it, get in touch and we can collaborate. We’ve all got the same goals at the end of the day.”way or for anything that can’t otherwise be replicated safely, it’s a perfect platform.”

The system is now in a pilot phase that will run through to December, with the official launch planned for January, and the company hopes to release at least ten modules over the next year.

The first, due to be showcased at various events from October, seeks to improve employees’ driving, testing them on the full process from a vehicle inspection through to tricky situations like navigating backroads, where they will be asked to identify the hazards.

“We’re very close to getting the driving experience approved by RoSPA [the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents],” Havvas says. “As a business, we’d like to put everyone on a safe driving course, but in the real world it would cost upwards of £1 million. Using the VR platform, we can bring that cost down by about 80 per cent, which changes it from unattainable to attainable.”

A module in which the user must use the correct tools and methods to locate a leak is also in the works.

“If we had to train 20 people in how to use a [leak-noise] correlator, it would take us probably two or three days,” he says. “Using the VR platform with the scoring mechanism, we could actually reduce that down to a few hours – we then utilise the physical training on the key scoring areas noted.”

Other modules include safe excavations, streetworks, working at heights, fire safety, and slips, trips and falls, while ‘Ten Steps to Site Safety’ takes the user from start to finish on a dig. Users begin by looking around the site and selecting the right PPE and then face various other tasks and questions, from using a CAT and genny to clicking on hazards within the scenario.

“At the end of the scenario we’ve got ‘When Digging Goes Wrong’,” Havvas says. “We’ve just filmed a controlled explosion to simulate hitting a high-voltage line or a gas main just so we can experience that in a 360°, immersive scenario – it’s the high-impact stuff that people remember.”

Knowledge retention is one of the most significant perks of the VR system. The Research Institute of America found that while traditional, face-to-face training had retention rates around 9 or 10 per cent, the use of e-learning – or electronic educational technology – brought rates to between 25 per cent and 60 per cent. While studies so far have been inconclusive, there have been indications that immersive VR experiences may offer the best retention rates of all.

Havvas says one of the primary reasons Anglian opted to work with Edg-VR, part of school workshop provider Education Group, was its background. The company delivers VR workshop modules to schools in America, Australia and the UK, giving children the chance to learn about dinosaurs or planets, for example, by allowing them to visit a virtual ‘Jurassic Park’ or take off in a spaceship.

“What we were looking for was a company that already worked in the education sector,” he says. “Kids are already learning in that way, using that technology, and Edg-VR has got a proven track record of delivering workshops and VR to kids. They have a robust model, and it was very important for us to utilise that.”

Another key advantage of the Edg-VR system is its portability – it can be packed into cases and requires no internet connection.

“We, as an organisation, cover a large geographic area, and it was important to be able to take this equipment to staff on the ground,” he says.

With the system ready for launch, the next stage is to add further training modules. The current programme has been designed through workshops involving Anglian and its partners, with experts who specialise in the individual topics brought in to help shape the modules.

So far, Anglian has worked alongside partners including Balfour Beatty, Barhale, Clancy Docwra, Kier, Morrison Utility Services, Mott MacDonald Bentley, Skanska, Stantec and Sweco, and the word is getting out about its potential.

“I’ve had a lot of interest from other industries wanting to get involved and utilise what we’ve already done,” Havvas adds. “We’ve had gas companies, Boots, Travis Perkins and even Melbourne Water visit recently.

“We want to get the key message out there to everyone, even those in the water industry: We’ve built this, we’ve developed it, we are confident in its capabilities, so if you want to utilise it, get in touch and we can collaborate.

“We’ve all got the same goals at the end of the day.”

This article originally appeared in the September issue of WET News

Topic: Contractors , Data, IT & Communications , Innovation
Tags: Anglian Water , virtual reality , technology , training

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