December 4th 2019 | Prospero House, 241 Borough High Street London SE1 1GA

Justin Parry, Co-founder and COO, Immerse

1. How can the public sector harness the power of AR/ VR technology?

VR has a very broad application across multiple industries. It can play a role in the full life cycle of any project that requires interaction with the physical world - from visualising, prototyping and testing new infrastructure projects, to designing training before real-world assets exist, to providing scalable and adaptive assessment across a workforce.
The technology we've developed at Immerse helps with all of these areas, specifically focusing on training and assessment. We've built applications for health and safety  training, key processes and scenario simulations, maintenance procedures and onboarding. Our experiences have been designed for both individual users and group-based, collaborative learning, bringing users together from multiple locations simultaneously. We work across a range of sectors - including energy, defence, logistics and healthcare - many of which share a common theme: recreating dangerous, impossible or expensive environments or processes.

2. How can this immersive technology assist in staff training? What are the benefits?

The use of virtual reality is found to have more of an impact on the retention of information in comparison to other traditional methods of learning. A specific benefit of VR training is that it enables staff to experience scenarios that could be too risky and difficult to replicate in reality. These can be accurately recreated within a controlled VR environment to help prepare trainees, ensuring the standards of safe practice are followed meticulously. Staff will also get the chance to explore and train on equipment that may not be accessible to them yet, leading to a faster time to competency and smoother transition in using the equipment once it comes online.

3. What are the cost-effectiveness and return on investment?
Ultimately, each individual VR training application will need its own business case, so a concrete example perhaps works better here. Let's use the example of training people on a CT scanner. In a recent business case for a UK hospital, a CT Scanner was budgeted to cost £1.8m in initial investment, then circa £400k per year to maintain. This is without the cost of the facilities to house the scanner, which will need to be developed to protect staff from magnetic waves - let's assume a conservative additional £1m in cost. That makes a total of £3.2m for the first year alone. Using such expensive and scarce assets to train is at best incredibly costly or at worst completely unrealistic. Plus trainees will need to travel to a very specific location and a trainer will need to guide them through it. We've built a CT Scanner VR simulation for a fraction of this cost. It doesn't require a trainer and can be used by unlimited numbers of trainees, as many times as they want, at any location in the world, without causing any downtime to critical real-world assets.

4. How can AR/VR transform the use of data?
VR enables unparalleled insights into user behaviour, enabling the accurate tracking of things that cannot be captured comprehensively in real life, including all user  movements, speed, manual errors made, physical tasks completed and comments made in context. When assessing learner performance in the real world - health and safety training, for example - the potential for skewed results is high. Assessors are human and will vary in their approach depending on personal profile or state of mind, information often captured on clipboards and manually entered at a later date. VR enables a completely uniform and consistent assessment process that programmatically adheres to industry standards. The big data generated by VR training programs can be used to improve the training itself, as well as the performance of employees. Repeated errors within a training environment may indicate that additional training is needed for an individual but it may also encourage the review of existing processes. Analysing trainees’ interactions and performance within a virtual environment can help to identify areas of a current real-world procedure that may need to be enhanced or amended.

5. What challenges do you think public services will face using AR/VR technology?
Challenges to large-scale VR deployment come in many forms - technical, logistical and cultural. VR headset selection based on individual needs will be critical - powerful desktop devices or lightweight mobile devices - but it is the deployment of these devices that will be more challenging. Integrating this new technology into existing processes and enterprise systems is a significant task, requiring careful phasing and the realistic management of expectations. Devices will need to be owned by an internal function that can manage, maintain and support them. If accessing via the cloud, network connectivity may cause problems, as may firewalls or other security measures. Content will need to be built in a standardised manner to avoid fragmentation and siloing, instead ensuring this is delivered in an efficient and cost-effective manner. User experience will need to be carefully designed to ensure appeal across a very wide demographic. If every application feels different, users will be learning how to use the technology over and over again.