Despite only being widely available to consumers in the past few years, immersive technology has been around since 1968 when Ivan Sutherland and Bob Sproull released the world’s first virtual reality headset, The Sword of Damocles. While groundbreaking for a society that was 14 years away from the creation of the internet and twenty-nine years away from the invention of Wi-Fi, Sutherland and Sproull’s headset was primitive by today’s standards, only able to “show simple virtual wire-frame shapes” and had to be physically connected to a computer.
Today, however, immersive technology can make video games feel like reality. Simulations can, put students at the heart of historical events such as the signing of the Declaration of Independence or the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, and allow Americans to see the outstanding natural beauty of their national parks without having to leave the comfort of their homes. As Juan Londoño of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation states, “the development of immersive technology over the past decade has allowed us to push the boundaries of possibility, and create experiences that were once the realm of science fiction.” He continued, noting that “the possibilities for immersive technology are endless, and often only limited by human imagination.”
While immersive technology has limitless potential, its current and potential value for training the next generation of workers can not be overstated. Traditionally, employees are trained in a classroom environment in theoretical scenarios that may not reflect reality or the complexity of real-world situations. Immersive technology, however, has disrupted this orthodoxy, allowing for
training in real-world situations, giving individuals the ability to practice their craft in a controlled, but realistic, environment. As Anastasia Morozova, Chief Operating Officer of Jasoren, a US software development company specializing in building virtual and augmented reality applications for workforce development headquartered in Miami notes, immersive technology “enables companies to create scenarios in which team members can learn how to avoid negative consequences at their work by applying their theoretical knowledge in virtual environments. This lets them safely make mistakes and then make correct conclusions.”
These benefits are not just abstract conjectures, but are seen every day by companies that use immersive technology to train their workforces. According to John Cunningham, Head of Unity Government & Aerospace, “Skanska, one of the world’s largest construction companies implemented highly realistic VR scenarios into its worker-safety training program for better awareness and fewer accidents.” As a result, “onsite workers are 73 percent more aware of site risks after completing VR training on operating construction equipment and risky procedures.”
Imagine a world where a heart surgeon can practice complex surgeries multiple times without endangering a patient’s life. Imagine allowing firefighters to train in fighting fires without putting them in a burning building. Imagine allowing workers at nuclear power plants the opportunity to train in crisis response without the risk of a nuclear meltdown that could cost thousands of lives or cause an environmental catastrophe.
All this is possible when immersive technology is used to train workers.
With Florida’s long history of entertainment, space exploration, and significant investments from the Department of Defense, the Sunshine State has become a national and international leader in immersive technology. Those who are using immersive technology to help train the next generation of workers also cite this history and the light-touch regulatory agenda of the state legislature as providing the necessary space for innovators to innovate and entrepreneurs to build. Such a light-touch regulatory agenda in Florida is contrasted with states such as New York and California whose burdensome regulations are forcing innovators to flee to more hospitable regulatory climates.
One of Florida’s best examples of the commitment to progress in this arena is a joint project between the Orlando Economic Partnership and software developer Unity, the world’s leading platform for creating and growing interactive, real-time 3D (RT3D) content. Both organizations have digitally recreated 800 square miles of central Florida. Known as a digital twin, this digital recreation is the first of its kind to recreate such an expansive space that can be updated in real-time and will allow “investors, companies, local governments, and nonprofits to visualize how their own plans will impact the region” as well as train their workforces more effectively. While the potential uses for Orlando’s digital twin are endless, interested users include power companies who are finding better ways to respond to power outages, restore power, and lay electric cables. Beyond training workers and finding more efficient ways of operating, Orlando’s digital twin can also be used to show potential workers and university students the Florida lifestyle, providing a competitive advantage to attracting the best workers and students from
across the country.
Beyond Orlando’s digital twin, Pensacola State College is employing immersive technology to train the next generation of healthcare professionals. Rather than learning from a textbook, immersive technology is allowing medical students to experience a range of situations from beach rescues to treating patients in the confines of an ambulance in a controlled environment. Such opportunities allow the next generation of healthcare professionals to practice multiple complex situations, correct mistakes and ultimately deliver better outcomes for future patients. Studies have also shown that the use of immersive technology can significantly lower the cost of training healthcare workers, allowing more providers to enter space and reducing barriers for individuals seeking to become healthcare professionals but who are excluded by high tuition fees.
Orlando’s digital twin and Pensacola State College provide the clearest evidence of how Florida is leading the way in employing immersive technology to enhance workforce training. The result of deploying immersive technology in this way will be a better-trained workforce who have greater experience in real-world scenarios and complex scenarios, not fictitious creations that fail to reflect the real world.. Having such a highly trained workforce allows Florida to cement its status as a national and global economic powerhouse and innovation hub.
Such benefits, however, can only be achieved if the state legislature and regulatory agencies continue pushing for a light-touch regulatory landscape that provides the space for innovators to innovate and create new uses for immersive technology.