Ever sat behind your desk and tested a product that won’t be manufactured for years? Have you conducted “in-lab” training from the comfort of your home? Augmented reality and virtual reality have been familiar to gamers for several years, having used them to create and access the three-dimensional (3D) environments in which they play. Today, MRIGlobal is utilizing these same technologies to develop new customized product testing and training platforms with distinct benefits for our clients.
The use of these technologies can help increase access, reduce costs, expedite product development, improve products, and benefit their users in ways that have previously been unattainable.
What are augmented and virtual realities?
Augmented reality (AR) is a technology that allows for a real-world environment to be augmented, as interactive objects are displayed through the user’s smartphone or other screen device, creating a composite view of their world. Commonly, a user might shop for furniture using this technology, as they could select their favorite color or style of sofa and overlay it from their device as a 3D image into their family room, providing them a sense of how it might look in that space.
Separately, virtual reality (VR) creates a completely digital environment that is presented to the user in a way that they feel like they are there, experiencing its sights and sounds. While wearing a VR headset, an entire 3D world is rendered as if objects in it have a spatial presence, while the user’s surroundings are also moving and changing. Objects in this world can be manipulated with hand controls by the user as if they are interacting with them in person. This is the environment most used by gamers, as it is completely immersive.
AR and VR Product Testing and Training Benefits
Experience begets skill, and when operating unique, life-saving equipment, it’s imperative the device has been tested to operate as intended and the user is skilled in its operation. AR and VR technologies allow MRIGlobal to take devices or even physical spaces and program them into the virtual environment, with users then testing and providing input on their operation. Before a physical prototype is ever manufactured, clients can attain immediate reactionary feedback or post-use survey input, which will help improve them in advance of production and even expedite that process.
Traditional learning methods such as lectures, reading, videos, and demonstrations provide technical information. However, they do not provide hands-on experience, and many learners find solely theoretical learning leaves a gap in their understanding. AR and VR platforms turn otherwise boring training methods into an interactive and applicable experience. Training on these platforms accelerates familiarity, while enhancing equipment functionality and operational procedures.
Virtual tutorials using on-screen instructions prompt learners to then take action. The combination of reading directions and then immediately acting upon them in the simulated environment affords learners a “hands-on” experience before they use the actual machine or technology they’re learning to operate, while accelerating familiarity and enhancing equipment functionality and operational procedures. It also develops muscle memory that will aid in future response time and accuracy.
The structured tutorials provided through AR and VR ensure every operator receives the same education using the same approved techniques. This maximizes the safety and efficiency of the training, while allowing trainees to move through the material at their own pace, benefitting their comprehension.
These technologies also allow clients to more rapidly test or train with people in a variety of remote locations, such as at home or on base. In the past, a lack of physical devices or inability to quickly access those devices in remote parts of the world would have limited training options. Today, training can take place whenever and wherever the user would like. Doing so may grant access to those who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to experience it, while also reducing travel costs and time for those participating in training. Clients can also realize reduced costs because they don’t have spent chemicals or materials that have been used through the training process.
Measuring improvement and success
Most people are more motivated and engaged when they can measure their improvements and successes. Therefore, an important aspect of gamified learning via AR or VR training is performance reporting, which can be used to rate the user’s proficiency against the ideal results of whatever simulation they engage.
Opportunities for use of augmented and virtual reality
In MRIGlobal’s AR and VR training tools, user interaction metrics are displayed at the completion of the session. Not only does measuring progress in this way foster trainee engagement, it also gives an immediate indication of whether or not the trainee needs additional training on specific subject matter.
The opportunities for development on the platforms are limited only by the imagination. Testing of products that are in early-stage development would benefit from user input prior to their manufacture. Too, products or spaces that would otherwise be impossible or not cost-effective to ship – like vehicles and lab spaces – can effectively be tested and trained on in these environments.
Any training that is currently offered in a traditional method can be made that much more engaging through use of these platforms. Researchers could be trained to use hoods, laboratory tools, and procedures before ever setting foot in the lab itself. A researcher who is just starting in a facility with biosecurity levels and may be unfamiliar with the enhanced procedures necessary could benefit from such training.
A disease outbreak caused by a high-consequence pathogen in a low-income country generally requires a rapid international incident response in partnership with local hosts. Utilizing AR and VR as components of a broader training continuum can provide programs that support both international and host nation teams in a way that ensures alignment in their training. This enables effective preparation and response, as well as knowledge transfer that supports future response capabilities[CM1] .
Users could also participate in custom, scenario-based training on equipment before its arrival in the field, saving time and resources, while putting the equipment to use more quickly once it does arrive. For instance, users can learn the functionality of an Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV) cockpit and dashboard. The UGV training allows the user to interactively train on all necessary steps of startup operation, including the correct sequence of those events and the proper timing intervals. With graphic overlays to highlight and label the positions of switches, users are able to connect the training with the actual layout of the UGV. Audio cues are used to reinforce that real-world feedback.
AR and VR can also be used to provide comprehensive safety and procedural expertise training that simulates an in-lab setting. Features can include a role-based log-in that provides access to realistic views of multiple facility locations based on the user’s job role. It can also demonstrate specific procedures such as donning and doffing of positive pressure suits. This capability can efficiently and effectively help train laboratory staff and other personnel to support their mission with no interruption of their critical science mission and operational capacities.
Another use for these platforms can be in support of improved biomanufacturing by achieving the reduction of human error as close to zero by simplifying processes for staff, with real-time spatial monitoring, guidance, and procedural error correction. This can serve as a workforce multiplier that enables flexible, rapidly scalable GMP manufacture for vaccines and therapies for the future. Improved adherence to processes and hands-free record-keeping will improve workforce efficiency. As a result, quality will significantly improve and patients will be better protected from poorly produced biopharmaceuticals.
Creation of augmented and virtual reality platforms
In partnership with the client, our engineers build customized training software to pair with specific hardware to support virtual or augmented capabilities, allowing for proficient training no matter where the trainee is. Through the process, our team will import and render the 3D CAD models and develop the gamification aspects needed to make the scenarios engaging for the user, while also customizing how it will look and function to meet the client’s specific needs.
Within the development and implementation of testing and training, the real world can be replicated with a high degree of accuracy. With virtual 3D visualized equipment, we even have the ability to add audio cues such as engine noise, switch clicks, and alarms so trainees receive the most authentic experience of hands-on operation possible.
One important factor when developing any type of AR or VR model or software is to have a thorough understanding of the subject matter. To obtain this, we collaborate with the subject matter experts. For example, if we are developing software to train on a chemical or biological detection device, we confer with those who know how to use that device so they can walk us through the real-world steps, helping us turn them into realistic virtual steps. If the training is to be effective, the model must be accurate to the real-world device.
Development of a base AR and VR application can take from 6-9 months, with customization of the specific procedures involved taking another 4-5 months. The more complex the steps or the larger the platform, the longer development takes.
Once created, these platforms and associated testing or training modules can be accessed on a variety of devices, such as Microsoft’s HoloLens, Meta’s Oculus Quest, or even a laptop or tablet, depending on the application. This simulation-based learning is ideal for unique systems and limited material resources.
These technologies provide benefits to organizations and individuals that will ultimately improve their safety and security, wherever in the world they may be.
Getting started with MRIGlobal
Contact MRIGlobal and get started with development of your own AR and VR environments. Whether you are testing a product that is still in development or training your team on its use before deployment, we have everything you need to get you and your team ready.
As a not-for-profit contract research organization, we have proven ourselves as an objective partner driven to make our clients’ products more successful. We specialize in defense, human health, pharmaceutical sciences, in-vitro diagnostics, energy and environment, agriculture, and global health.
To learn more about the work we’ve done or how we can help you, contact us today. If you are part of an agency, business, or academic institution seeking assistance with a project, use our Project Quote Tool to get started.
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