Covid-19 Future of Work: SMRT’s VR Trainer by Fraunhofer Singapore

What is the future of work?

With the Covid-19 pandemic, safe distancing is yet another issue that makes VR trainers more relevant than ever.

For SMRT, Singapore’s pioneer railway operator, virtual reality is the way forward to ensure safety for its trainees when it comes to getting valuable hands-on experience on locomotives.

The physical shunting of locomotives requires complex skills and collaborative teamwork.

Together with Fraunhofer Singapore at the SMRT-NTU Corporate Lab, the VR-TSST was born, as a technology with the heart to equip trainees with the opportunity to gain hands-on experience, anywhere and anytime.

Initially, the issue was the lack of trains at the depot for trainees to get hands-on training. 

Fraunhofer Singapore’s next-generation Virtual Reality Training Simulator for Shunting of Trains (VR-TSST) delivers new levels of realism in immersive training while ensuring safe distancing.

Can you distinguish between the real and virtual SMRT locomotive here? Source: Fraunhofer Singapore

Virtual reality training gives trainees the opportunity to work in immersive environments that are digital twins of the trains in real life.

This virtual training resolves the challenges of how trainees could observe safe distancing while under training, as practice for each trainee may take place anytime, anywhere with the software downloaded on a laptop, accompanied by a virtual reality headset, controllers and internet.

Fraunhofer Singapore’s Executive Director and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) professor, Dr Wolfgang Mueller-Wittig say, ‘The impact of manoeuvring equipment in this highly realistic virtual environment for trainees is almost indistinguishable from hands-on training on a real train. This digital twin is built to the exact scale of SMRT trains to provide an unparalleled immersive experience. Close collaboration and effective communication between the train operator and ground shunter is essential for ensuring safety. The VR-TSST allows multiple trainees and the instructor to interact virtually in a highly realistic environment, which nurtures teamwork while ensuring safe distancing. This level of interactivity in a virtual environment greatly enhances safety for rail workers in the real world.”

Spearheaded by Fraunhofer Singapore, the VR-TSST will enhance team performance and training to prevent accidents from happening in real life.

This project was funded by the SMRT-NTU Smart Urban Rail Corporate Laboratory, which was jointly set up by the National Research Foundation (NRF) Singapore, SMRT Corporation and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in 2016 to develop global innovative transportation solutions.

Mr Lee Ling Wee, Chief Executive Officer, SMRT Trains, says: “Continual training of our staff and innovation are key as we strive to maintain our rail reliability. We are excited to partner Fraunhofer in this project, which leverages cutting-edge technology to improve employees’ performance, collaboration and safety. The use of virtual reality solutions provides a safe virtual environment for trainees to practice tasks and prevent mistakes and human errors. It allows multiple trainees to interact and collaborate across various scenarios in a controlled setting.”

The VR-TSST models highly realistic and complex scenarios for trainees to experience the shunting process as a team.

In particular, two trainees – the train operator and ground shunter collaborate in the virtual environment to complete the shunting process.

Which is real and which is virtual? Source: Fraunhofer Singapore

Each step of the shunting process will be executed by functionally performing the movements and characteristics of the task.

All dynamic elements will behave realistically and use VR exclusive interactions such as “grab and move the lever” instead of “press a button to move the lever”. Simulation of inspection and shunting operations allows for training of inspectors and operators.

Trainees will interact in the same virtual space but need not be in the same physical location.

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