Timeline: 5 Months
Hardware: Oculus Quest
Services: Bespoke Development, Consultancy
Openreach runs the UK’s digital network, connecting homes and businesses to the rest of the world. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, as key workers, Openreach engineers were involved daily in the delivery and maintenance of our networks and energy. Throughout the years, Openreach has achieved goal after goal, including recently hiring 3,500 new trainee engineers – the biggest recruitment drive in the history of the company.
These growing numbers mean training its workforce is a priority to Openreach more than ever before. Only productive and efficient training can keep its existing and new workers safe while on the job.
Shortly after this key business milestone, a training problem occurred. Despite Openreach’s policy being against the use of High Voltage poles, the company discovered 200 High Voltage poles with Openreach attachments on them. At this point, they knew they needed to offer training at scale for their field engineers to address the issue.
Given the risks associated with High Voltage, (e.g. electric shock, burns, fire and arc, explosion or death), the training needed to be hazard-free, quick, yet productive and prioritising risks awareness. If those aspects had not been integrated, the engineers’ lives would be at risk, working in an incredibly dangerous environment without proper training.
As an innovative and future-thinking organisation, Openreach welcomed the idea of immersive training.
That’s when we proposed a Virtual Reality (VR) training solution for Openreach’s field engineers. Our VR training solution was specifically created for Openreach engineers working on external network who encounter overhead power and joint use poles.
Working near High Voltage poles can be potentially fatal, but VR training can help raise spatial awareness of the dangers and processes to fulfill the task. Also, within the digital environment, Openreach can guarantee the safety of its workers during the training too, improving on existing traditional training methods.
We created a set of memorable experiences for users to feel the danger of working near hazardous and life-threatening environments, such as Low and High Voltage poles.
This element of surprise aims to stimulate users’ emotions safely in VR to avoid mistakes in potentially lethal situations in the real world. In these circumstances, it’s crucial to make sure the training sticks, to save lives. An effective training means workers can go to work sooner and stay safe every day on the job, a peace of mind for employers, colleagues, and loved ones.
For this reason, within the VR training, we also designed an introduction module to the Tetra steps, a requirement for all engineers to stay safe while using a ladder on Low Voltage pole and in the vicinity of High Voltage lines.
How were the accidents created to be so realistic in VR? We used a mocap suit to reproduce the effects of inattentiveness when working with High Voltage poles. You’ve never seen a mocap suit? Check out this video by us to understand more about the motion capture process here.
In its initial stages (as it often happens), there were a few challenges to tackle in the creation and development of the training. For example, how do you make sure users can interact and learn in VR the appearance and details of an object as big and as tall as a High Voltage pole? The answer (and our solution) was creating an interactive module that allowed the inspection of miniature poles. In fact, part of the training process included identifying pole types and setups, and then, once selected, users could throw poles directly in front of their eyes. The poles would then grow high in the sky, like trees getting higher and higher until reaching their real-life size.
As a result, the user was left in awe for a second. That’s when the engaging side of VR simulations came in full force: the “wow” factor kept the player attentive and interested. Also, the user had the chance to interact with the poles as close as they desired, simply by moving around or teleport, as they say in the VR world!
Another challenge for our team was the delayed face-to-face delivery due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, that did not stop the training. In fact, the application was developed for mobile headsets. This solution was made to guarantee the use of more headsets, reducing hardware sharing and so, contact among people, in line with COVID regulation guidelines. A mobile headset application also meant the training could be done while working from home. This further facilitated the delivery of the training despite restrictions.
Was it possible to track performance, usage and results during the training? Yes, all learning data and xAPI statements are stored within a Learning Record Store (LRS) – Learning Locker by HT2 Labs, alternative LRSs can also be used (i.e. xAPI standard).
We developed a report generation and analytics dashboards to support result-based corrective measures to check what went right, but also what went wrong in order to avoid future mistakes.
With this project, we had artistic freedom and total trust from Openreach chief engineers’ department. This helped us to create a unique experience that blended the H&S CBT learning module with our state-of-the-art VR training experience. We focused our effort on providing an experience that challenged the spatial awareness of the learner, reducing accidents due to negligence and imperceptible hazards.
Recently, the application has been having great success with the C-Level management team, the L&D and H&S departments within the organisation. The project is currently delivered across the UK via multiple Oculus Quests.