VR training wins water industry innovation award01 April 2020

Shared VR in Igloo training game for a rural road.

Drainage and utility specialist Lanes Group has won a water industry innovation award for its development of what is said to be the world's first virtual reality (VR) team training theatre.

The company has won the Institute of Water of Innovation Award 2020 for the South East Region for leading the development of VR capability in a 3600 video theatre. The immersive training system will now compete against other regional winners for the national Institute of Water Innovation Award.

Lanes is using the VR training theatre, in Slough, Berkshire, to allow wastewater engineers working for Thames Water to test their knowledge and skills together as a team by participating in training games in a virtual world.

The firm began by use an Igloo cylindrical video theatre for training but has since gone a step further by adding VR capability, creating a technology it calls Shared VR in Igloo. The training games replace conventional class-based learning, allowing users to test their knowledge and skills in a safe but highly realistic environment before they need to use them for real.

Lanes director Andy Brierley says: "It's fantastic that the Institute of Water has recognised what is an exciting and new training resource for us and an exciting new training experience for our teams.

"Shared VR in Igloo is allowing us to develop high impact results through gamification of training that is already transforming our ability to create skilled, engaged and safe operational teams fit for the 21st Century and beyond."

Lanes is the wastewater network services maintenance partner for Thames Water, which shared the cost of investing in the Igloo theatre. The system has been made possible by the integration of VR headset software with the Igloo's projection system. Lanes commissioned VR specialist Myriad Global Media to work with Igloo Vision, which designs and manufactures the video theatres, to make this happen.

External view of the training Igloo

Two training games have been developed so far, one to develop skills and knowledge for dealing with drain blockages and the latest to train teams to set up safe traffic management. More are planned, including pollution control and confined space entry.

James Brewer, learning and development specialist for Lanes on the Thames Water contract, adds: "New training games will be developed in line with operational priorities. For example, working on highways is one of the biggest risks for any utility services provider.

"Therefore, it made sense for us to use this powerful new technology to develop training that will counter those risks and help keep our teams, other road users and pedestrians safe while we work."

Traffic management training game for an urban road.

Brierley concludes: "VR using headsets is an excellent training tool. But it allows just one person to train in the virtual space at a time. Shared VR in Igloo is a real gamechanger. For the first time, our teams can train together in a virtual world, supporting team learning and team building.

"We can also bring together colleagues from different parts of our operation, field workers and office staff, so they get to understand each other's roles and work together to develop better ways to deliver excellent customer service. That's incredibly powerful for us because the safety and customer excellence of our services depends on great team delivery."

Adam Offord

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