The Next-Generation of Training with Virtual Reality
In an age where technology is increasingly penetrating every part our everyday lives, the analog world is slowly being phased out by small hand-held devices. You may even be using one to read this article now.
As such, the ways of training have begun to evolve alongside technological advancements. The rudimentary rote learning techniques, based on memorization and repetition, of the past are falling wayside to more interactive methods. Once only science fiction, virtual reality (VR) has quickly become a viable and useful training method for many industries. In fact, studies have shown that VR increases learning retention and so efficiency, staff motivation and engagement.
To this end, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) began funding development of VR training programs last year. Recently, their dream of implementing this type of technology into real world applications became a reality with the launch of RampVR, IATA’s first “plug-and-play” virtual reality tool. For a deeper look into the technology and the implications this has for the future of training, we spoke with Mr. Frederic Leger, Director, Airport, Passenger and Cargo Services Products at International Air Transport Association (IATA).
VR tech has had a long road to get to where it is today. In its early years, the goal was to simply not make people sick. While that’s still a goal today, the tech has advanced to a point where people can comfortably handle VR training sessions. The disorientation and motion-sickness associated with devices of the past has given way to a more accurate and genuinely fun experience with the headsets on.
But what’s it actually like inside VR? It may be hard to describe without actually trying it, but having experienced it first-hand, it’s easy to see why this is the future of training. The setup includes a high-spec PC, headset, headphones, and two controllers. Once the headset and headphones are on, you are immersed into what’s being displayed including the sound. The device tracks head movements, allowing for real-time three-dimensional spatial movement. The controllers in hand facilitate various types of interactions within the virtual environment allowing identification and examination of elements in the surrounding (e.g. how many foreign objects debris or damage did you spot?). It’s all really quite intuitive and realistic once you’re “jacked in,” and for many just trying the technology can easily turn them into believers.
While developing the RampVR system, IATA said they consulted with airlines, airports and ground service providers to understand their specific training needs and pain points. A common theme was the effort it takes to train and equip employees with the relevant skills needed in order to perform their job functions. The new system aims to address these concerns with the most accurate replication of the ramp environment ever created while being in a safe and secure virtual environment.
For a better idea of what the typical training session involves Mr. Leger said, “We start the day training and talking through what you’ll experience. Once the headset is on, the system begins recording what you’re doing and seeing, and once the session is over, a score is given for the performance. Instructors can sit down afterwards and review with the trainees what was done correctly and what needs improving. Each session in VR is only about 15-20 minutes max, but these sessions can be repeated to improve scores and knowledge retention. This clearly reduces training needs due to its high efficiency and learning retention.”
He continued, “You can look around all of the aircraft in the simulation. The RampVR system allows for all types of scenarios, like aircraft turnaround inspections featuring aircraft damage or foreign object debris to enhance training. A real advantage to the system is the various issues we can simulate as well as the lighting and visibility conditions, which would be much harder to replicate in real life. It’s really bringing something new to training that all people in the industry can undergo and learn from.”
A Big Leap
Sitting in a classroom all day attempting to stay awake while being lectured at isn’t anyone’s ideal way to learn. While PowerPoint presentations and videos offer a little more interactivity, VR really is the next-generation of learning. This virtual training is also beneficial as airside is a noisy environment to train people on-site and can be dangerous, making it less conducive to training. Also, security access requirements and the availability of aircraft or equipment can restrict training opportunities.
Mr. Leger said, “There’s really no contest, the retention of what’s being taught through VR is simply up to four times better. It’s really hard to grasp the full benefits of VR until you experience the training first hand. But once you do the full benefits become clear. I have no doubt that VR is the future of training in the aviation industry. It’s just a matter of creating the right modules, fitting instructional design and developing the program for, and alongside the industry for their specific needs, so we’re spot on with the issues.”
He continued, “People who have been doing aircraft inspections for a long time immediately recognize how closely RampVR mimics their everyday, on the job, experience and thus the effectiveness of this training method. Improving ramp safety and reducing damage to aircraft and ground equipment, which costs millions to the industry, is an industry priority. Better education and training is the solution, but training in this extremely active environment can be a challenge. RampVR allows users to safely immerse themselves in ramp operations and experience a variety of scenarios in different operating conditions.”
Since their recent launch, IATA currently has two modules dealing with ramp training; aircraft turnaround inspections and aircraft marshalling. RampVR is fully compliant with IATA standards as well, as set out in the Airport Handling Manual (AHM) and IATA Ground Operations Manual (IGOM). However, they have already had requests to expand VR training on the cargo and security side, with training modules like aircraft loading, Dangerous Goods acceptance, cabin security inspection, airport airside driving, etc.
Mr. Leger said, “We want to test the market more to see what customers are looking for in terms of new training modules. We initially developed VR for ground operations training. Currently we offer two ground handling modules, but are in the process of developing more for this area and others. One of the benefits of our VR programs is that we can customize every part of the training experience to meet the needs of our customers. We can brand the airport, aircraft livery and ground service equipment. The system can also easily switch the type of aircraft (wide and narrow body), ground service equipment, and airport around; it’s all very customizable and flexible. Furthermore, we can accommodate translation into local languages. In addition existing VR customers can easily download updated content / modules from IATA’s website for easy implementation and usage. We believe that we have found a winning formula that will revolutionize ground operations training as well as all training related to operational functions.”
More information available at: www.iata.org/rampvr