Co-op News

Exploring new realities

By Hayley Leatherwood April 2023

Virtual reality program will strive to enhance safety training

With lives on the line, there are no games when it comes to safety for Oklahoma’s electric cooperatives. However, there will soon be an opportunity to use virtual reality (VR) gaming format to enhance safety training and improve learning retention.

With VR, the user wears a headset that tracks head movements and displays a surrounding 3D image, making the user feel like they are existing inside the virtual environment.

One of the most exciting aspects of VR is the feeling of presence—the sensation of being fully immersed in the virtual world. The graphics can be incredibly realistic, and the user can interact with the environment in a way that feels natural.

For lineworkers, this means VR can be utilized to practice dangerous activities in a safe environment, like emulating being in a restoration scene, grabbing tools and accomplishing assigned tasks.

Derec Janaway, Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives (OAEC) Director of Safety and Loss Control, anticipates Oklahoma’s electric cooperatives’ lineworkers will receive the new training format well.

“We’ve been in dire need of interactive training for years,” Janaway says. “It’s a marked improvement to be able to go through a process instead of looking at a PowerPoint presentation or watching a video.”

For example, in the VR experience for a downed power line, a single-phase line with an OCR, or recloser, is observed with the handle down, indicating the line is deenergized.  A recloser is an automatic, high-voltage electric switch. Like a circuit breaker on household electric lines, it shuts off power when trouble occurs.

The user, the “Journeyman,” observes the current state of the OCR from the ground.  The Journeyman proceeds to drive down the line to investigate the trouble.  He finds about half a mile down the road the line is down along with the neutral. The job would be to return to the OCR and begin the completion of a proper clearance procedure. The experience continues with a voltage test, detailed repair and safe restoration of the line.

More than 10 custom VR tools have been created to accomplish the job, like rubber gloves, hot cutters and personal grounds. The timing of the tools has also been built into the program to ensure the Journeyman is using them at the right time.

“This is the closest we can get to replicating the real experience,” Janaway says.

This program is made possible by a joint investment from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and Federated Rural Electric Insurance Exchange. Oklahoma will be receiving four Oculus devices to carry out the training.

Although the program is still in the infancy stage, Janaway hopes to unveil Oklahoma’s VR training this summer. As co-ops continue to explore the possibilities of virtual reality, the ultimate goal is to create a safer and more secure workplace for all, potentially saving lives and preventing accidents. By investing in VR safety training programs, co-ops are taking steps to make that goal a reality.


Categories: Co-op NewsTech

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