We recently announced a partnership with Siemens and Atos to develop collaborative VR training - enabling multiple users to participate in a shared VR scenario. By bringing together our respective experiences, we are creating an enterprise-grade solution, delivered through a developer-friendly framework which enables complete freedom of natural interaction using VirtualGrasp technology.

The new collaboration features enable real-time interaction, with support for voice, streaming observer video and controls to allow teachers to manage the training scenario. In contrast to existing VR meeting applications, participants have complete freedom of interaction and are able to use their hands to interact with complex objects to complete training tasks.

Initially, we have started upgrading some of our existing VR training scenarios to add collaboration features. For these early participants, the experience of coming together, often across timezones, in a shared virtual environment where they can interact together represents an entirely new way to work.

Why collaborative VR?

For the most part, existing VR training scenarios have been largely limited to single participant exercises, performed alone or with a teacher providing guidance from the outside world. However, In most of our day-to-day interactions, we depend upon other people and work together to complete common objectives. 

A typical manufacturing process might consist of a series of specific tasks allocated to a large group of people. As each task is completed, it is handed over to the next person sequentially and ultimately concludes at the finished result. 

By looking at the complete end-to-end process, operational inefficiencies can be better identified and addressed. The PwC Global CEO Survey 2020 highlights the need to address operational inefficiencies - 74% of industrial manufacturing CEOs cite operational efficiencies as the main activity for driving revenue growth over the next twelve months.

VR provides an environment where experimentation and learning-by-doing are encouraged and where tweaking of a collaborative processes can be done without real-world business disruption or compromising safety. Though being able to use collaborative VR, a complete manufacturing process can be modeled and evaluated, supporting an agile approach to implementing iterative improvements.

Collaborative VR can also provide an answer to a more immediate problem - a dwindling amount of experienced teachers available for skill-transfer, attributed to the growing skill gap as the baby boomer generation reach retirement. The National Association of Manufacturers Fourth Quarter 2020 outlook survey highlights that 97% of manufacturing firms have concerns over the “brain drain” effect.

The lack of experienced teacher roles is further compounded by practical limitations, such as the availability of training facilities, access to limited or specialised equipment used in training and the logistics of travel and bringing people physically together at specific times.

By enabling a teacher to interact with participants within VR from anywhere, complete with accurate virtual equipment and natural hand interaction, new skills can be taught and demonstrated without the limitations of physical presence. In effect, teachers can deliver more effective training regardless of their location, allowing for greater teaching capacity and class sizes without physical constraints.

It is also worth noting that collaboration, in itself, is also a skill. The recent LinkedIn 2020 Learning Workplace Report cites collaboration as a top most sought after soft-skill. By training and interacting together within VR, participants develop both hands-on skills and learn how to collaborate effectively.

Realising effective collaboration

VirtualGrasp technology plays an important role in delivering an effective collaborative experience. Typically, how objects can be interacted with needs to be defined ahead of time - allowing them to held and used in predetermined static ways. While this is sufficient in some scenarios, the fidelity between hands and objects is lost.

VirtualGrasp offers dynamic grasps - rapidly analysing virtual objects and developing an understanding of the object and how it could be held. This allows for participants to interact freely with objects using their hands, creating a more natural experience. Part of the learn-by-doing experience that VR promises encourages making mistakes and learning from them. By giving participants complete freedom of interaction - to use complex tools to perform intricate operations, mistakes can be made and self-corrected.

When brought together with real-time collaboration features, participants can share VR training scenarios that better reflect real-world processes and procedures. Complex equipment, tools and other real-world items can be used without compromising the experience, leading to a collaborative experience that becomes more immersive and seamlessly connects real and virtual environments.

Ready to collaborate?

Drag-and-drop collaboration… sort of!

Technically integrating the collaborative framework is straightforward, being delivered as a developer-friendly Unity game engine package. The framework is designed to free developers from tedious tasks and the complexity of handling networking. Objects and their positions are automatically discovered and synchronised across multiple users, allowing for more emphasis on the design of the scenario.

Typically existing VR training scenarios will have been carefully designed around a single user use-case, provisioning enough room for the user to navigate and placing single objects ready to be used. By adding multiple users, the dynamics of the scenario change dramatically. 

Designing with collaboration in mind from the start, ensuring all participants can be accommodated, makes for a much more immersive experience. Adapting to the new capabilities requires some careful planning and re-thinking - having one set of virtual tools might leave other participants standing idle or by not having enough room, participants may not be able to properly see a teacher performing a task. 

Language also becomes an important consideration - VR training scenarios should use visual guidance and not depend on written text to accommodate all participants. .

Get started

The Gleechi collaborative VR framework is delivered as part of our platform, leveraging VirtualGrasp and other components to build complete VR training experiences. We are rapidly adding new features and optimisations based upon real-world feedback and our experiences creating collaborative training.

Get in touch to learn how collaborative training could benefit your organisation.

Thomas Bailey
August 12, 2021