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Melbourne Water develops VR tech to make training safer

Melbourne Water is taking the risk out of training staff on highly specialised equipment by doing it in the virtual world.

The utility partnered with Deakin University to develop a virtual reality (VR) system that teaches operators the isolation procedure for the ozone generators at its Eastern Treatment Plant.

“Ozone is a dangerous gas if not handled correctly, which means you have to have a lot of confidence to work on the generators,” Melbourne Water Technology and Innovation Safety Manager Scott McMillan said.

“But there’s no opportunity to get that confidence without working on the real thing.”

To get around this and avoid purchasing an additional ozone generator to use for training, the utility worked with a team from Deakin’s CADET VR Lab to build a system that lets multiple people access the same virtual world at the same time.

This isn’t Melbourne Water’s first foray into VR. It already uses the technology to help pinpoint potential hazards early in the asset design process and to train staff in snake bite first aid.

McMillan, who will discuss Melbourne Water’s use of VR at Ozwater’19 in May, said these provided useful insights for its latest project.

“We learnt that VR can be quite an isolating experience. When you put a headset on you’re in a  world of your own, so we knew the ozone generator training had to be multi-user,” he said.

“Accessibility was also important. When you’re new to VR it can be nerve wracking, so we wanted references to the real world.”

The training is set up so users can see things like the table they’re standing next to, which helps prevent them from being too disoriented when using the technology.

McMillan said the project showed the benefits of having a good industry-academia partnership and encouraged other water businesses to start small.

“You have to be willing to fail; it’s not a risk free approach,” he said.

“You have to cope with that and have the backing of the business – that’s when innovative things happen.”

As well as being safer than learning on a real machine, McMillan said an unexpected benefit of using VR is that training can be “just in time”.

“Instead of trying to get people to do training once a year, they can now do the training when it  suits them. This could be the day or hour before they need it,” he said.

“This is a massive advantage. It means you can make training work for you rather than you working for training.”

To hear more about Melbourne Water’s use of virtual reality, don’t miss Scott McMillan’s presentation at Ozwater’19. To learn more, click here.

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