Virtalis has provided Schneider Electric with a suite of immersive and interactive Virtual Reality (VR) customer training modules plus an ActiveMove transportable advanced visualisation display system which enables training to be appreciated in full, stereoscopic 3D. Schneider is billing it as the training system which allows you to see what you cannot see in real life and do what you cannot do in real life - this is a big departure from its existing training methodology.
Schneider Electric Technical Institute director, Stephan Pradal, said: "VR is enabling us to do and see things that we can't in real life. The modules we've commissioned feature additional pedagogical benefits that go beyond classroom training and even hands-on training because, in the virtual world, our cabinets have current running through them, making all the sounds and reacting all the way you'd expect in real life. In our hands-on training, safety dictates there is no current. In the Virtalis virtual training environment, it is also possible to virtually strip back our equipment, so that in the Medium Voltage switchgear, trainees can see the working parts, which really helps them to understand our technology."
Virtalis designed the virtual training environment by taking Schneider Electric's data from various sources into 3D Studio Max and then, using Virtalis' MaxExchange exporter, into its Visionary Render software to VR-enable it. Once the static parts existed virtually, Virtalis Development Team member, Jamie Femia, travelled to Germany to observe the various working parts and record the real-life sounds that give the training environment such a stamp of authenticity. Then, working closely with Schneider Electric training specialist, Claude Houbart-Santini, who was developing an exhaustive storyboard covering all the processes step-by-step, Femia was able to create the simulations by scripting the tasks and animating the parts to work just as they would in real life.
"I really see many benefits from this technology", explained Pradal, "both for product familiarisation and for solving real-life scenarios. The tools and keys used in real life are also used virtually and the components move into their required positions only when the correct actions are performed. Our first module is a discovery of the Medium Voltage switchgear, which includes the explanation of the mechanism and several pedagogical games. Our second module takes you through a procedure including in-simulation comprehensive instructions, so trainees can practice following correct procedural methods. Another more advanced section leaves them to make mistakes and we will build on this gaming aspect of the Virtalis technology in future. I think the interactive experience challenges trainees' minds, forcing them to ask questions, learn faster, gain experience and receive feedback."
Schneider Electric provides technology and integrated solutions to optimise energy usage in markets such as industry, data centres, residential, energy and infrastructure. It has more than 20 training centres around the world, so the Schneider Electric team has a wealth of training experience which they brought to bear in the Virtalis system's design, by ensuring that training objectives were met at each stage of the simulation design. They took the opportunity to load the simulations with additional details, so that when the trainees explore the virtual circuit-breaker, they can then break out of the simulation, if desired, to look at line drawings of the same equipment.
Now the system is being deployed on training courses around the world, as well as travelling to exhibitions to act as a market differentiator to customers. The hardware platform it is shown on, ActiveMove, was developed with this kind of use in mind. The Virtalis ActiveMove immersive display system comprises an active stereoscopic, High Definition resolution, high brightness, high frame rate, three chip DLP projector with a rear projection screen in a dedicated enclosure, coupled with a PC, eyewear, head and hand tracking, installation and support. ActiveMove is transported in two custom, wheeled cases specifically designed for local and international shipping, making it easy to share between locations.
Pradal commented: "We took our Virtalis System to this year's Hannover Fair, and we received rave reviews, just as we did at CIGRE, a Transmission event. The feedback from the first trainees in Regensburg, Germany has been equally enthusiastic. This system is most definitely not just an eyecatcher. As a result, we are bursting with ideas about future modules and further phases of development. The levels of interactivity are going to increase and we plan to add avatars."
With more than 130,000 employees in over 100 countries, Schneider Electric is a global specialist in energy management and a world leader in energy efficiency. Schneider Electric devotes 5% of its sales every year to Research and development with over 7,500 R&D engineers in centres worldwide. It sees innovation as a way to make its solutions greener, simpler and easier to integrate into the daily environment of its customers, relying on strong investment and many partnerships. David Cockburn-Price, Virtalis' MD said: "We look forward to a long and successful technological partnership with Schneider Electric."