Virtual reality (VR) has struggled to move too far beyond gaming circles and specific industry use cases like medical education, but there has been renewed hope (and hype) with the burgeoning Metaverse movement, championed by tech heavyweights like Meta. . the promise that virtual worlds bring.
Just yesterday, Los Angeles-based company AmazeVR announced a $17 million tranche of funding to scale its virtual concert and “music metaverse” platform. And last week we saw the mighty Epic Games invest in British Metaverse infrastructure company Hadean as part of the Fortnite creator’s broader Metaverse expansion plans. Hadean itself runs simulated environments that include everything from Minecraft to land warfare, having recently signed a deal with the British Army.
And with that in mind, six-year-old Irish startup VRAI is poised to capitalize on increased interest in VR by raising a new tranche of funding to expand its flagship Hazardous Environment Awareness Training (HEAT) product to more environments — starting with the offshore wind industry.
Founded in Dublin in 2016, VRAI has built a simulation platform that combines VR with data collection, analytics and machine learning (ML) to give clients measurable insights and improve training outcomes. The company already has some notable customers, including British multinational arms and defense company BAE Systems, which recently inked a deal with VRAI to provide military training via VR.
BAE Systems uses VRAI Photo credit: BAE Systems
Warfare aside, it is becoming clear what benefits VR can bring to dangerous environments that are, by definition, dangerous to human life – recreating such scenarios in a virtual space reduces risks and many of the other costs associated with traditional training.
“Traditional training for risky, remote, and infrequent operating environments is expensive, difficult to scale, and very difficult to measure in terms of effectiveness,” VRAI CEO Pat O’Connor told TechCrunch. “Traditional simulators are only available for elite roles, they are not scalable and often as expensive as the actual device.
Often located far out at sea, wind turbines are becoming larger and more complex, resulting in significant occupational hazards for maintenance and installation workers in the field – from extreme weather conditions, falls, drowning and more. While VR cannot replace the need to be physically present at a location, it can can Reduce the time required to be out there for training purposes.
With this in mind, VRAI is directing its efforts beyond aerospace and defense industries to target the offshore wind industry – a timely move given Europe’s energy situation, which is being exacerbated by the ongoing war in Ukraine. The UK government recently announced plans to reduce its dependency on fossil fuels by increasing its offshore wind target by 10 gigawatts (GW) to 50 GW by the end of the decade, and has also pledged to reform planning processes and Shorten approval times for new plants.
Other countries are also trying to improve their offshore wind game – earlier this week, Portugal raised its first offshore wind energy auction target to 10 GW, after previously setting it at 6-8 GW. The broader European Union, meanwhile, claimed around 14.6 GW of offshore wind capacity last year, a number projected to grow 25-fold by 2030.
However, any market looking to increase its wind power capacity must also increase the resources it devotes to it, and that includes upskilling the workforce – so VRAI’s entry could hardly have come at a better time.
“We believe our technology can help scale offshore wind power faster, safer and with more insight,” said O’Connor. “We initially focused on industries that have a long tradition of simulation, such as aerospace and defense, but our vision is to democratize simulation training by providing high-end simulation skills – once the sole domain of elite roles like Pilots, surgeons and F1 drivers – for anyone who needs it, whenever they need it, wherever they need it.”
While open to working with any industry, VRAI seeks to address a specific pain point in the renewable energy space, with some studies suggesting that one of the biggest stumbling blocks preventing oil workers from moving to adjacent industries like wind power is the Costs are training – costs that you often have to bear yourself. And VRAI is going in a way to address that.
“The wind industry’s Global Wind Organization has stated that 500,000 trained technicians will be needed to meet the growing demand for renewable wind energy worldwide over the next four years,” said O’Connor. “Current training for this industry is very traditional and requires people to travel to remote locations to train on physical equipment. At VRAI, we can instead train these people in VR and provide an ‘on-the-spot’ simulation of target fidelity.”
This means the training comes to the person rather than the person having to take the time to travel.
“We believe that industries that spend above average on training and focus on safety where work is risky, remote or infrequent will benefit most from this technology,” said O’Connor. “VR simulation has the added benefit of reducing the cost and carbon footprint of traditional training.”
To expand its reach into the offshore wind industry, VRAI announced today that it has closed a financing round led by Northstar Ventures, a VC firm based in Newcastle Upon Tyne, near VRAI’s UK hub in Gateshead, 3rd March 2017 million pounds (US$3.2 million).
VRAI employs seven people at its current headquarters in Dublin, with its recently established UK subsidiary in the north-east of England employing four full-time staff – with ten more new hires over the coming year.
“This investment allows us to increase offshore wind power, which is critical to society’s plans to transition from fossil fuel dependency,” said O’Connor. “Our products will also help ensure our military personnel receive the very best training and insight at a lower cost and with a reduced carbon footprint in the face of increasingly complex operational environments.”