DTE Teams Up With Vectorform to Develop VR-Based Training
DTE Energy Co. along with a Royal Oak-based tech company, Vectorform, have introduced a virtual reality simulation that is aimed at changing the way the Detroit-based utility trains its field employees.
The HTC Vive system, developed by HTC Corp., makes use of a specially designed headset and controllers to turn any room into a 360-degree, interactive virtual environment with motion tracking.
The first training program is set in a residential backyard and simulates the steps leading to the removal of a fallen tree branch along with a power line. DTE Energy’s line workers and technicians will also have the opportunity to safely train on other commonly encountered scenarios, including repairing downed wires, performing gas line shut-offs and operating at great heights.
The VR Training
Shawn Patterson, DTE’s vice president of organizational effectiveness and chief learning officer says: “We have many field employees working in high consequence, dangerous situations every day…The immediate thought was to use this technology to augment our training and evaluate, teach and coach our employees in these scenarios without that risk.”
DTE said it is the first energy company all over the nation to adopt this type of innovative and safe training for its workforce.
According to Patterson, the partnership will develop next-generation training simulations, including exercises in life-like virtual space without exposure to daily real-world dangers. The so-called Vive headset allows technicians to experience training with a 110-degree field of view and 360-degree motion tracking.
“We’ve been evaluating the technology for nine months, and when we saw how promising it was for training purposes, we brought it to DTE Energy,” according to Kurt Steckling, co-founder and CEO of Vectorform. “The system stimulates the brain and puts the user in a real world repair environment, and they will actually feel fear but in a safe environment. The technology is a quantum leap in terms of maximizing memory retention in an immersive experience.”
Why DTE is adopting VR
Patterson harped on how crucial this training program is as DTE prepares to shift its workforce. Within the next five years, about 50 percent of DTE’s 10,000 employees, of whom, nearly 4,000 work in the field, will be eligible for retirement, he said.
“We’re going to be bringing in a whole new generation of workers here at DTE,” Patterson said. “This is a wonderful platform for us to teach, train and develop that next generation — and if you think about, since they’re younger, they will be more used to operating these kinds of systems, which I think will be a huge attractor for talent.”
Patterson said the new virtual reality system will, rather than replacing DTE’s current training system, will be added as a hands-on layer before field work in the future.
The Vectorform/DTE Partnership
Jason Vazzano, one of Vectorform’s co-founders, said the technology is available only to developers, like Vectorform, for less than $1,000 a kit. He, however, added that the creation of customized programs falls on the developer, leaving the exact cost a variable.
Even though Patterson would not disclose the amount of DTE’s budget that is committed to investing in these kinds of projects, he emphasized that the virtual reality method of training will save the company money long term.
Vazzano stated that Vectorform plans to test the system’s capability for DTE and beyond. The company, whilst developing training simulations for the utility to expand its business through situations such as storm response and training, also aims to develop other ways to market the technology.
“This is the flagship experience and DTE is the first to come out and get in front of this thing,” said Vazzano. “This technology has only been available for a matter of weeks and DTE is looking to develop it more.”