Virtual reality has come to the training rescue for global giant HYDAC during COVID-19, thanks to cutting-edge technology and Deakin University expertise. HYDAC Australia has pioneered the use of virtual reality (VR) to provide real-time training on complex machinery with outstanding success – paving the way for a new training era for industry, business and other sectors.
Whether they are based in Melbourne, Sydney or Berlin, HYDAC trainees feel like they are sitting in the same room, once they have donned an Oculus Quest headset and entered the virtual realm created by researchers from Deakin’s Motion Lab and School of Information Technology (aided by the latest in VR, interaction design, 3D modelling, animation, programming and video).
When the lockdown restrictions were introduced, the Deakin/HYDAC development team had been collaborating face-to-face for four months on a VR training environment, virtually constructing one of HYDAC’s most complex hydraulic devices to allow user interaction. However, when lockdown was introduced, timing was in their favour. Their virtual environment was able to allow up to ten users to meet in front of the virtual machine.
“With low-cost VR devices for every staff member involved, we were able to continue the design of the VR training system and its iterative development through the multi-user VR platform itself,” said project leader Professor Stefan Greuter, Director of Deakin Motion Lab.
“In our virtual VR meetings, we continued to generate new ideas, use props and role-playing to clarify user activities and processes, and evaluate new versions of the prototype to improve usability and identify software issues.
“Platforms such as Zoom and Skype are great for brainstorming, but VR interaction provides the missing link for experiential interaction. Being in a virtual environment gives users a spatial sense. It allows direct interaction with the equipment, real-time instruction, feedback, verification of skills, and more.”
With over 9000 employees and 50 branch offices, HYDAC is a global player in hydraulics and automation control, supplying mining, defence and power generation sectors, as well as technical training services. HYDAC Managing Director (Aus/NZ), Mark Keen, said that a direct experience of working on machines in a photorealistic VR setting provides a deeper level of training than traditional remote learning.
“Memory retention is better and the ultimate training outcome is superior,” Mr Keen said. “The teacher and students can communicate visually with hand gestures and audibly. When they are together in a VR space, trainers can convey subtle things that are difficult to do by PowerPoint.
“It’s exciting for Australian industry. We are pioneering solutions that haven’t been available before.”
Whilst VR has proven advantages in staff training, immersive collaboration on the development of prototypes presents new opportunities to capture and respond to user interaction issues early on in the process, said Professor Greuter. His team recently applied a fully-immersive collaboration process during the development of an Ocupational Health and Safety project with Australian construction company Kane Constructions, without requiring a single face-to-face meeting.
“VR training is now extremely cost effective, without sacrificing quality or safety,” he said.
“It is much cheaper than long-distance transport and accommodation, and it avoids time away from the office. The technology is undergoing continual refinements. Users can see hand movements and gain a sense of body language now, but we expect to have the technological capability to accurately reproduce users’ facial expressions and whole body movements within the very near future.”
The HYDAC VR training system was supported by HYDAC P/L and the Department of Industry and Science (Innovations Connections Grant).
HYDAC virtual training video
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