Training for the offshore wind workers of the future is going to look and feel very much more real than it does at present. ‘Death by Powerpoint’ will soon (and thankfully) be a relic of the past as smart training companies begin to leverage the fast-expanding possibilities of virtual reality, writes Katharine York, Manager of ORE Catapult’s Operations and Maintenance Centre of Excellence.
This month, the Offshore Renewable Energy and Digital Catapults have launched a new cross-sectoral working group, XR@OMCE, aimed at accelerating adoption of immersive training technologies in the offshore wind sector. Currently, these approaches are rarely used, but there are compelling safety and commercial advantages to be leveraged from them.
Refresher training is the area most ripe for change. Instead of passive listening, virtual reality-based learning can allow individuals to explore and interact with a simulated turbine environment, actively demonstrating good technique (or the consequences of mistakes) in a way that would be unconvincing or unsafe in a non-simulated environment.
Before going on to the exciting possibilities emerging in this space at the moment, let’s look at current training models in the offshore wind sector.
Today’s offshore wind training is heavily weighted towards classroom learning: even when conducted online the same principles of passive listening tend to apply. Some learners can find this both dry, unstimulating and overly reminiscent of school experiences.
Behavioural safety training is also used: experienced actors role-play situations in order to initiate safety conversations or interventions from the audience. While this is a powerful technique, it offers limited opportunity for individuals to practice, and has the added pressure of being conducted in front of peers and managers.
Technical training, meanwhile, requires access to the tools, components or, ideally, the whole turbine, which requires updating training centres for each major model change while retaining space for legacy systems. The expense involved leads to centralisation of training, so that travel becomes essential.
On-the-job learning has its limitations too as it demands that turbines fail for technicians to gain experience of fault diagnosis and troubleshooting. As turbine reliability increases, an unintended consequence is that technicians can become less capable of dealing with failures when they occur.
Simulations of offshore wind turbines could be used for delivering bite-sized learning at regular intervals. This continuous learning would be a powerful way of combating ‘skills-fade’ in workforces, as well as allowing companies to differentiate themselves as an employer that goes well above the basic requirements of accreditation bodies.
Simulations do not need to be static or generic: they could include changing variables such as awkward workspaces, varying light conditions or bring in additional hazards like grease spilt on the floor. This realism has been found to be crucial to building an emotional connection and promoting authentic responses when trialled by bomb disposal trainers among others.
Performance within training environments would be monitored by direct observation from the trainer, computer analysis of tasks or more advanced comparisons of inherent biases in task design, such as size difference or left/right handedness.
Further into the future, as technology advances, the virtual tools and equipment within the training environment will be able to ‘feel’ weights accurately and offer resistance against movement. Haptic feedback technologies within gloves and clothing will provide force, vibrotactile, electrotactile, ultrasound and thermal feedback so that sensory learning is accurate, building reliable muscle memories.
While exciting, the technologies themselves are not the whole story: immersive training is about building a completely different learning experience (not just porting existing courses to a new format). Done badly, virtual reality can be as dull as a PowerPoint if it doesn’t engage with the opportunities for safe play, creative learning and tactile exploration. Developers who do nothing more than create a video will inevitably forfeit a “Wow!” reaction for a “Why did they bother?”
That is why we have teamed up with the Digital Catapult to create a cross-industry working group to shape the immersive training of the future. The group will tackle topics like:
It is free and designed for end users, training providers, technology developers, accreditation bodies and academics. To join or for more information, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org