For those of us that work in an office, we don’t consider that going to work could be dangerous.  Yes, it is possible that you could have a slip/trip/fall maybe on your way in, but it is taken for granted that sitting behind a desk is safe.  That is not the case for all professions.

Before I started in the VR industry, I worked for Network Rail (who own and operate all of the GB rail infrastructure – 22,000 miles of track).

I had a nice “safe” office based job.  As part of my personal development, I arranged some front-line visits.  My first visit was with some electrical maintenance engineers.  Amongst other things, at one point I found myself standing 6 feet away from a live line looking at an engineer maintaining a set of points heaters (these warm the points during cold conditions so they don’t freeze open or closed).  I checked that standing at such close proximity to the track was in fact safe.  I was informed that we were working in line with current guidance.  I should mention that as well as the engineer doing the actual maintenance, there was another person that was the look-out.  Their sole job is to keep their eye on the line so that appropriate warning can be given to move out of the way of a moving train, when necessary.

As the first train went by I was actually quite scared.  We’ve all stood on a platform with a speeding train going by and felt the power of the wind that it generates, so why was I scared standing 6ft away?  When you are standing on a platform the scary bit is out of sight; the bogies (wheels).  The edge of the train glides up to the platform so you can step on/off the train.  However, when you are at track level, your head is level with the front corner of the train, something which is approaching you at up to 80 miles and hour, and only 6 feet away from you.

When the second train went by, I recorded a video of it on my iPhone; I felt I needed to share this with those that won’t get this opportunity.

One of the things that I am working on is the ability to introduce new staff to the track using VR.  To train the basic competencies in a safe environment has huge benefits; training the experience of working in this dangerous environment without putting the trainee at any risk.

Recently at an Asset Management show, I almost ran someone over with a “virtual” train (in a VR model assisted by an Oculus Rift).  The effect that this had on the poor chap wearing it was incredible.  Needless to say, should he find himself on a track, he will be much more aware of his surroundings…

But, this made the point I was intending.  I was able to provide this exhibition goer the same experience that I had had but without putting him at risk.  Clearly, the power of immersive VR (even at the relatively low resolution of a DK2 Oculus Rift) is able to train the necessary basic track competencies that actually going out on track does…