One of my favorite jobs I got to work on was while I was contracting with an innovative technology company called Futurus, which is based in Atlanta, GA. I was a part of a larger team who worked closely with Fortune 500 companies to convert their existing corporate training programs into Virtual Reality training experiences.
The ultimate goal was to take the existing and proven training modules but take advantage of the immersive nature of virtual reality to improve the interactivity and effectiveness of the training programs.
Two critical challenges needed to be solved to complete this work. First, we needed to be able to design and develop a Virtual Reality experience that could capture the learning objectives of the original training programs. Second, we needed to create a toolset that would allow us to continue producing these training modules consistently at full production quality within a reasonable timeline and budget.
While Futurus already contained expert designers who could work with their clients to translate the learning modules into an effective training program, we still needed to develop a gamified simulation that allowed users to interact with their hands within a virtual world the same way they would in real life. Considering that many of the potential users of these training programs would not be experts in this technology, it was imperative that the usability was intuitive and would not impede the learning process.
Since we would need to develop several training modules, we needed a pipeline to load 3D models, animations, voice-overs, and more resources that are unique to each experience without having to reinvent the wheel every time. Additionally, each training module would need to use a shared scoring system that could analyze their progress and give targeted feedback to the individual user.
We started this project attempting to develop our custom VR interaction framework but ran into several issues and delays along the way. To stay within the expected timeline, we decided to take advantage of existing solutions that streamline the process and get us results much quicker. We built on top of a Unity (our engine of choice) plugin called Autohands, which provided simulated hands capable of grabbing and interacting with the environment in a physically accurate way.
Even with this excellent foundation, we still needed to implement several custom additions that allowed us to build the specific experiences being designed. By the end of this work, we could interact with buttons, switches, levers, locks, and various equipment and tools. Unique interactions triggered specific scenarios, which was vital to simulating real-world processes.
To rapidly develop custom scenarios that often had complex and branching outcomes, we needed a tool that allowed us to create unique user flows that responded to specific interactions and triggered unique voice-overs and animations with minimal coding required. We developed an internal visual design tool called the “Adventure System,” which allowed the designers to implement their complete scenarios into the game engine and set up the intended grading structure without being bottlenecked by waiting for development resources to be available.
All of the tools and resources were developed to be generic and modular, which allowed them to be repurposed for all future training modules with little to no maintenance required.
At the time of writing, Futurus’s clients have been able to integrate some of the earlier training modules directly into their existing training models and have seen astounding results! The trainees responded more positively to the training and showed improved comprehension when being graded afterward.
While new solutions are needed to be generated for new scenarios and problems that arise, they have been able to continue developing training modules for their clients within ideal timelines because they can avoid having to reinvent the wheel every time.