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ALTERED PERCEPTION: When he puts on the virtual reality goggles, Self Interactive founder Charlie Rosenbury is transported into the virtual showroom his team created to showcase a meat-processing machine.
SBJ photo by Wes Hamilton/graphic provided by Self Interactive
ALTERED PERCEPTION: When he puts on the virtual reality goggles, Self Interactive founder Charlie Rosenbury is transported into the virtual showroom his team created to showcase a meat-processing machine.

Immersive Business: VR may provide lasting benefits to workforce development

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When the lights turn on, you’re standing in front of a massive meat processer machine.

Do a 360-degree turn, look up and look down to find you’re in a computer-generated showroom. Physically, you’re actually in Self Interactive’s office at Missouri State University’s The eFactory. However that’s not what it looks like through the goggles of virtual reality.

Somewhere in the real world, Self Interactive founder Charlie Rosenbury – whose team developed the software – turns the machine on. The conveyer belt begins to move, the gears turn and suddenly meatballs appear down the line.

With the push of a button, Rosenbury then transports you into the air on scaffolding above the machine. Keep a solid stance – it’s easy to get dizzy all the way up here, even though your feet are on solid ground.

“Virtual reality can defy the laws of physics,” Rosenbury says before another click shrinks you to 1-inch tall.

Now, you’re standing underneath the turning gears. The falling meatballs float right through you and move down the conveyor belt.

The software was developed for EnSight Solutions LLC to showcase the equipment at expos without actually having to move a real version of the machine. The processor is one of several projects Self Interactive has in the works for businesses to implement VR technology, including promotional content and employee training.

Self Interactive began as Rosenbury’s home business in 2012, but it has since expanded to The eFactory and employs seven with a 2017 revenue of $389,000.

When VR technology began gaining popularity, Rosenbury said he saw its value for businesses.

It’s wild, shiny and new – but VR is moving beyond recreational use, such as video games. Even when the novelty inevitably wears off, Rosenbury said it’s the way of the future for an array of industries.

Increased interest
According to a 2017 study by technology intelligence firm Tractica LLC, the market for enterprise VR hardware and content was $592.3 million in 2016. It’s projected to grow to $9.2 billion by 2021 – a compound annual growth rate of nearly 60 percent.

International companies now utilizing VR technology for training purposes, such as Oculus VR LLC with VirtualSpeech, which simulates public speaking. Fifty-two percent of the program’s users, according to Oculus.com, give a five-star rating for the $399 software.

In an August 2017 news release, Audi and its visualization partner ZeroLight Ltd. announced the launch of its first VR showrooms in Germany, the United Kingdom and Spain. Catered for downtown locations where dealerships can’t stock large inventories, the technology allows customers to explore and customize vehicles.

And while the technology is gaining traction on a global scale, it’s beginning to touch local industry, as well.

Practical application
South Carolina-based Jarden Plastic Solutions recently bought VR training software developed by Rosenbury’s training software division, called Tacit. The software is being utilized at Jarden’s Springfield plant first and may rove to the company’s other four locations in the future. For now, however, it’s at Springfield branch General Manager Herb Dankert’s disposal.

The software leads a new hire through the process of constructing gas spouts by watching the program complete a task, finishing the step with guidance and then going solo.

“I think it’s going to work very well with the application of what we’re trying to do,” Dankert said. “It puts the sequence in place of the operations that are going to have to happen on the assembly.”

Training new employees to construct gas pumps typically takes one week, Dankert said. With the VR technology, it will take a day.

“Training is about half an hour in the virtual reality, and then probably another half hour with the actual fixtures,” he said. “A picture is worth a thousand words, but a motion picture probably is worth a lot more.”

How much more? Jarden’s corporate office could not be reached by deadline to provide the software’s cost, however, Rosenbury said his training programs cost $20,000 to six figures.

In addition to manufacturing training, Rosenbury said there is a market with emergency services and hospitals. Tacit currently is discussing training software with a local hospital. Declining to disclose which health system, Rosenbury said the program should be implemented by summer.

Although University of Missouri Springfield Clinical Campus doesn’t currently use VR to train its students, Associate Dean and Chief Academic Officer Dr. Andrew Evans said he sees the benefits. It could be used for simulating conversation with patients, such as learning how to break bad news, or walking through the process of a surgical procedure.

“Anything that gets a student or learner closer to a real environment without putting patients at risk, to help them understand what is going on, is going to be helpful for educational purposes,” he said.

University of San Francisco in 2016 began utilizing VR in anatomy labs, according to UCSF.edu, allowing students to perform dissections and explore anatomical structures layer by layer. Stanford Medicine also hosts a neurosurgical simulations lab where aspiring surgeons can practice procedures.

Talking money
The price tag on software such as EnSight’s virtual showroom could be $10,000 to $20,000, Rosenbury said. Self Interactive has also done projects with Marlin Network LLC’s The Alchemedia Project, creating interactive VR promotional videos costing anywhere from $5,000 to $30,000.

Another arena Rosenbury said he’s pursuing is nonprofits creating promotional fundraising videos. With price tags of $5,000 to $15,000, this tool most likely would be utilized by larger nonprofits, such as Convoy of Hope, Rosenbury said. The idea is that VR developers would create 360-degree films of workers in the field, which would be integrated into an app. Donors could download the app and, using customized cardboard glasses purchased for $1 each from Self Interactive, view the interactive video.

“This is the clear future,” Rosenbury said. “There can be a lot of real utility that can come from this.”

Evans agreed, but said, without greater proof of positive impact on training, he can’t justify the cost yet. As times goes on, however, he would be open to considering the option.

“The question is how much better the outcomes will be with VR over simulation,” he said. “We’ll just have to see whether that justifies the expense. We’re not at a position to purchase anything with a high-dollar tag at the moment. We’re always looking at best ways to educate students.”

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