Training & E-Learning: The real way to engage

In today’s maritime world of constantly changing regulation and legislation, the need for training to be engaging and relative has never been more crucial.

It is widely acknowledged that people learn best by doing and, says Raal Harris, Managing Director at maritime training provider KVH Videotel, “the more experiential the learning is, the better on so many levels”.

Which is why the maritime industry is now embracing the use of VR – Virtual Reality – in the training of tomorrow’s seafarers.

KVH Videotel has indeed been working with VR for just over two years now and recently announced plans to provide VR training to the maritime industry by OMS-VR, a maritime software development company, based in the Ukraine.

“In our industry we gave a very well-established history of using simulation and VR fits exactly into that same space, allowing people to experience things that they otherwise could not,” said Mr Harris. “That might be an environment or a situation. VR has the power to provide a safe sandbox in which learners can test their skills and ability to deal with situations without consequences. VR has the additional benefit of being accessible at a significantly lower price point than simulation and requiring far less resource in terms of physical space and computing power.”

Mr Harris said VR creates a sense of presence for the user – effectively your brain is tricked into thinking that you are experiencing something real. Even if the graphical display is not photo real, the way in which the brain interprets the special and haptic information means that it accepts it as real.

The term VR was initially coined by the artist Jaron Lanier, who envisioned the user fully immersed in an artificial world completely generated by a computer. However, in a paper on ‘Virtual Reality for Maritime Training – A Survey’ carried out by DNV GL’s Volker Bertram and Tracy Plowman, it is stated that: ‘Despite significant progress in the last 20 years, we are far from this vision. While Virtual Reality has progressed from vision to industry reality, it has fallen short of expectations’.

DNV GL has been using VR for training purposes for around 10 years now, according to Mr Bertram, Senior Project Manager at DNV GL’s Competence, Learning & Academy.

“Benefits are a strong trainee engagement, as VR is a lot more fun than usual classroom training, and you can expose trainees to situations they don’t encounter usually in their real life.”

DNV GL developed a Survey Simulator (SuSi), a VR-based training tool for ship surveys which offers virtual environments of various ship types and one offshore structure. Various deficiencies – technical and safety-related – can be simulated in the virtual environment and trainees practise in VR, finding and documenting these deficiencies. The main idea behind the SuSi approach is moving dangerous, time and cost consuming educational tasks into the safe and inexpensive environment of VR.

The most visible asset of SuSi is its photorealistic, real-time visualisation of maritime 3D models, but another important factor of good simulation is interactivity. SuSi offers virtual tools and machinery as used in real surveys, for direct interaction with the 3D model including a Smartphone, flashlight for dark areas, a camera – essential in preparing documentation of deficiencies during virtual inspection, and even a spray to mark-up any deficiencies.

“VR is particularly useful in observing human behaviour in situations that are either too dangerous to practise in real life or occur too rarely,” said Mr Bertram.

Other examples of where VR has been used for training include The Korean Register of Shipping, which has developed its own VR-based ship survey simulator to train ship surveyors on classification rules and inspection procedures. The Institute of Technical Education (ITE) in Singapore also uses advanced Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality for maritime and offshore training and just last year MacGregor, part of Cargotec, opened an advanced training academy with a virtual reality (VR) technology showroom in Arendal, Norway, to demonstrate equipment onboard vessels and explore and test product capabilities. All the simulation training for MacGregor offshore cranes, offshore mooring and loading systems, as well as deck machinery and steering gear is now located in Arendal.

Jeppe Carstensen, Director at Marstal training school in Marstal, Denmark said more companies were now using VR in training.

“I believe it is very useful,” he said. “We have participated in a couple of projects in Denmark relating to Virtual Reality development solutions for how to disassemble and engine and put it back together again in the right order. This is an interesting perspective from our point of view. It means the seafarers have had the experience before going into the live situation on a vessel.”

He added: “We need to prepare for a different type of training and we need to prepare them for a different kind of environment, and one of those environments – if you go 20 or 30 years ahead – is not being on the vessel anymore. That’s controlling the vessel from somewhere else.”

KVH Videotel’s Mr Harris said the upsides to using VR in training was cost and portability when compared to simulation, while offering many of the same benefits. The downsides, he said, were few and over time will be ironed out.

“VR in its present form is not for everyone,” he said. “Some people do experience motion sickness although a well-designed VR experience will mitigate this. Head mounted displays, at the moment, are uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time, but each generation of the hardware becomes more and more invisible. For me, even as it is now, the upsides far outweigh any negatives and the more you work with VR, the more you understand how to use it in a beneficial way, avoiding potential problems.”

Mr Bertram also agreed that the main downside was the high costs of development.

Under the proposed arrangement between KVH Videotel and OMS-VR, KVH Videotel will represent OMS-VR’s existing portfolio in the maritime market. In addition, the two companies will develop an exclusive series of new VR training segments over the next two years, making up a portfolio of more than 40 training courses. The topics of the existing and future VR modules include essential STCW-related critical safety material, cargo and engineering tasks, and industry best-practice exercises.

Can Mr Harris see VR becoming more widely used within maritime and offshore training and what does he think the training landscape will look like in the next five to 10 years?

“There is no doubt in my mind that VR will completely transform maritime training over this time period,” he said. “That is not to say that all training will be conducted in VR – far from it. But I don’t doubt that nearly all training programmes within the next 10 years will include an element of VR, AR or mixed reality. A good adage is that people tend to overestimate the impact of technology in the short term and underestimate it in the long term. I think that’s what we will see with VR and that’s why we, at KVH Videotel, have been so determined to get to grips with it. It is only by experimentation that we can learn the new meta-language of this medium and work out how to get the best from it.”

Mr Bertram said: “In five to 10 years, VR-based maritime training will be established as one form of digital training, but restricted to a few niche applications, mainly relating to safety training.”

While Mr Carstensen believes there will definitely be more VR coming into training “because we can put people in situations that we cannot train for onboard”.

Marstal training academy is part of the Funen maritime cluster which has a robotic department, a Virtual Reality department and an automation department.

Mr Carstensen added: “This will come more and more, I am certain of that, and that is a challenge for all training institutes to be at the forefront of this development and, furthermore, it is a challenge for the new seafarers because the seafarers I meet both in Denmark and overseas are afraid of new technology and what it is going to bring, for instance, the whole idea of automated vessels. The future is coming…it will not go away, regardless of what we do.