For construction site supervisors, this training course normally offers few surprises.
On the site, they first encountered a trench supported by vertical sheets of steel driven into the ground. Then they came across formwork, a matrix of metal tubes climbing high into the sky that are used to set the shape of concrete structures of all types. And then there was a cofferdam, like a trench, but covering a larger area.
These are three temporary elements commonly found on construction sites, and the Skanska employees viewing them were learning how to inspect them. Inspections are important, as these features must be properly designed, implemented and maintained to ensure people's safety.
A twist on training
But this training was different from previous sessions, as what they were seeing did not physically exist. Rather, they were standing in a conference room and interacting in a digital world – made possible by the virtual reality (VR) headsets they were wearing.
Increasingly, virtual reality – once found only in science fiction – is reality. As applied to training, VR provides an easily accessible and safe way of harnessing the power of learning through experiences. Beyond construction, VR is helping train soldiers, doctors, nurses and even astronauts.
"These are the early days, but VR is going to be almost everywhere," says Jake Sharp, a Skanska UK Visualization Specialist.
Just like the real world
For these trainings, our UK Construction unit divides the 12 trainees into three groups, each with a VR headset and two handsets. One person at a time in each group dons that gear to inspect the virtual structures. With VR, they can engage with the virtual world by walking, crouching and measuring, just like they are physically there.
Their challenge is to identify faults – such as a missing structural support – that have been modelled into the digital assemblies. They must also determine how those "errors" can be corrected. This is a team exercise, so their colleagues watch the interactions on a video screen and offer suggestions.