In terms of training oil spill responders ready to respond to an incident, the use of VR/AR does not seem to be widespread. However, there are examples in other sectors that demonstrate the potential benefits.
In 2019, the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health commissioned the University of Nottingham to study how users behaved in the virtual environment in an emergency fire situation, comparing the behaviours they exhibited to those demonstrated in the real world.
In one scenario, participants had to evacuate from a virtual fire in an office, seeing and hearing using a VR headset but could also feel heat from three 2kW heaters, and could smell smoke from a scent diffuser, creating a multisensory virtual environment. This group was compared against another group who were observed in this scenario using only audio-visual elements of VR.
The researchers carried out a further test, with some of the group trained using PowerPoint slides. All training, whether in the virtual environment or Powerpoint covered the same topics and had the same learning objectives - it was just the delivery method that differed. The traditional training condition was delivered as a self-administered PowerPoint presentation, drawn from a real fire safety training presentation (adapted for suitability for this study).
The study found the following:
- Behaviours shown in the virtual environment were often consistent with those shown in real life.
- However, participants in the virtual environment did not delay action as much as in the real world.
- When the researchers added the multi-sensory feedback to the study, the behaviours shown were still more consistent with real-world behaviour.
- Virtual environment training had several benefits over PowerPoint-based training.
- Self-reported higher levels of engagement
- Improved attitude to occupational safety and health
- Increased likelihood of participants wanting to undertake training in the future
- Increased longer-term knowledge retention than those trained by PowerPoint
However, the overall conclusion was that with the current technologies, virtual environments would be more effective for general inductions and teaching personal safety rather than for in-depth, detailed procedures, processes and navigation. The full report is available on the IOSH website.
In the United Kingdom, in 2020, the British Military trialled a virtual reality platform with the Parachute Regiment, British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Marines.
The platform used intuitive gesture controls (haptics) designed to match reactions on the battlefield, meaning personnel could hold a 'gun' and crouch and crawl when necessary, just as they would on a real-life exercise. Further trials are ongoing.