Business, Sports, Medicine Embrace Virtual Reality Training

Walmart plans to use virtual reality at its 200 employee training centers. It’s not the only business gravitating to virtual reality, as an increasing number of companies, in industries as diverse as construction to medicine, find that customized 360-degree video is an effective, less expensive and often safer way to teach employees. Walmart, which tested VR in 31 centers, now plans to use it as a key part of training for 140,000 employees annually. As a result, shipments of VR/AR headsets are on track to skyrocket.

The Wall Street Journal reports that International Data Corp. predicts total shipments of AR/VR headsets “will grow at a compounded annual rate of 58 percent over the next five years,” with businesses leading the charge. Shipments for businesses are estimated to rise 80 percent, and those for consumers at 50 percent, says IDC.

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Although VR is “so new that there has been limited ability to measure its effectiveness as a business tool,” and it doesn’t “lend itself to training for jobs that require manual dexterity,” many companies have become believers.

Walmart trainees use it to scan produce and deli sections and “get a virtual preview of a Walmart on one of its busiest holiday shopping days.” Walmart vice president Tom Ward notes that, without VR, “if you’re new to Walmart, it would be difficult to prepare you for that.”

At United Rentals, says director of training and development Patrick Barrett, “employees stand on the edge of a virtual construction site, with two minutes to observe and determine what equipment is missing before an avatar of a construction boss approaches and they have to begin their pitch.” He believes VR will “shorten his weeklong training program by half.”

JLG Industries reports that, “VR is a safer and more efficient way to train operators of its boom lifts, who must learn to operate the vehicles from platforms extended up to 185 feet off the ground on giant arms.”

In sports, the NFL is so enamored of VR training that it bought a stake in startup Strivr Labs, which designed the programs for Walmart and United Rentals. Strivr has “developed a virtual-reality interview simulator for general managers to practice interviews with prospective players.” The practice is designed to create questions to find the right candidates, and also to “eliminate some of the implicit bias that’s stirred anger in the past.”

In medicine, Surgical Theater modeled a VR 3D brain, which will be used to practice neurosurgeries in hospitals at New York University, University Hospitals of Cleveland and Mount Sinai among others. The Journal of Neurosurgery reported a clinical study that showed that “preoperative practice with Surgical Theater’s rehearsal platform reduced the time it took to repair aneurysms, which suggests it also made the surgeries safer.”

Johns Hopkins University is developing a way that orthopedic surgeons can use augmented reality to “superimpose patients’ X-rays onto the inside of goggle lenses,” as they repair complicated pelvic fractures.