Game theory powers up
Courtesy of The Advertiser.
Virtual reality has become serious business for SA Power Networks since it decided to explore whether visual effects could have real-world applications for its operations.
Peter Barnard, the company’s Manager of Engineering Design and Technical Services, said staff members began dabbling with VR and AR (augmented reality) in the quest to create a new way to easily visualise and improve substation designs. The result, with help from their staff and students from the Academy of Interactive Entertainment (AIE), is functioning models of many substations, which trainees can interact with in a 3D environment using VR goggles.
Another spin-off was improving the connection with education institutions, including AIE. Mr Barnard said the tentative collaboration between the two had evolved into a formal Skilling South Australia project supported by the Department for Industry and Skills. Students from third year AIE interactive gaming courses will be offered weekly placements with companies – including SA Power Networks – from July, while sharing their cutting-edge skills with employers.
Mr Barnard said the uses for the program kept expanding as the company got a handle on the technology, including a new training environment for employees working in electrical substations dotted around the state. “The realistic visualisations are improving the function and safety of designs before they are built,” he said.
The potential savings to the company, by having people virtually visit substations – using VR goggles to undertake training – rather than travelling across the state to do on-site training, were huge.
“We are trying to make the training modules a better education experience at their local depot – you can see the efficiency in not having to drive to Adelaide for training,” Mr Barnard said.
“But, more importantly, it reduces our safety risk. One of the most dangerous things we do as a company is all the driving. If we can reduce the amount of time people are on the roads by being able to visualise a design or do a design without always having to travel, is a big win in safety.”
Computer Aided Design systems manager Stephen Williams said other companies were catching on to the concept.
“The knock-on effect was, once we’d figured out some of the management of the data, other groups got interested,” Mr Williams said.
He added that one company believed it could save upwards of $1 million on travel time for staff by having people use VR training methods.