Royal New Zealand Navy personnel have been honoured with a New Zealand Defence Force Innovation of the Year Award for their work developing virtual reality training software.
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Navy Modelling and Simulation team members Karl Vetter and Kevin Heveldt partnered with augmented reality training provider StaplesVR to create simulations for radiation hazard training, gas turbine water wash and ship induction safety officer training.
The award is part of the 2023 NZDF Person of the Year Awards announced earlier this month, which also honoured NZDF diversity and inclusion director Nina Russell as Civilian of the Year 2023.
Heveldt said the driver for the team was the desire to make people safer and more work-ready by addressing specific “hurt points” (areas of improvement) and using technology they could access anytime, anywhere.
“Being safe around radiation hazard areas on ships, understanding the protocols and processes whilst staying safe when they visit or post to our ships and bases, or qualifying our engineers in a high-risk low-frequency maintenance task; this tech is perfect to experience, train, and qualify,” he said.
“Change is hard but our people recognise the potential of this kind of tech, and it hasn’t been a hard sell.
“In fact, the enthusiasm is such that there are two to four areas within Navy that are starting to build on what we have done, to develop other VR-based solutions.
“We have had interest from across the NZDF on how we are engaging, and momentum is growing through the organisation.”
He said the team is only weeks always from giving the modules to people on courses.
“The follow-up next year is deploying headset on ships. This is taking learning to the learners, and qualifications to the candidates, not the other way around.”
The untethered virtual reality training is designed to produce realistic and real-life scenario-based training in order for the RNZN to be combat capable. As an added benefit the technology may also reduce personnel resources, allow greater flexibility and personalisation, be improved with online updates, promote uniform training, improve safety and reduce risk of accidents.
“It (the training) is always the same, as per the book, in an exacting manner. You must always do the correct task in the correct order, as the system is designed to not move on to the next step or task until the correct steps are completed,” Vetter said.
“This means that the speed of learning can dramatically increase as the learner will learn as they use the trainer, as opposed to the pace which is dictated by availability of real-world resources.
“Digital models can be displayed to explain theoretical concepts or to practise operating without the real equipment or aircraft. This will be Pokemon-Go for the military.”