VR for employee training is expensive. Developing VR training takes a very long time. VR equipment is costly. VR is for gamers. VR makes you nauseous. In this episode we pose some of the biggest concerns of VR training to Richard Benedetto, Director of Digital Media for Epsilon Systems.
Over the last twenty-five years, Richard has led or helped create some of the most innovative training technology applications in the training industry. He has served as a training technology integrator for a wide variety of industries, including healthcare, Department of Defense and Department of Energy. At Epsilon Systems he led a group of innovative engineers and designers across all mission areas called Learning Solutions Group East. Richard joined Epsilon Systems in 2012 with the acquisition of Media Box Studios, a Virginia based Training and Marketing technology firm where he was founder and CEO.
Host – Steven Maggi: For years, the thought of virtual reality seemed like this crazy science fiction. It was never going to happen, but that’s changed. When it comes to training, it offers endless possibilities, but there’s a lot of misconceptions about virtual reality that need to be addressed. Well, let’s meet Rich Benedetto. He’s the Director of Digital Media for Epsilon Systems.
Now Rich, a lot of people talk about virtual reality and the first thing they think about is, “Oh my god, I could never afford this,” but you say that’s not really true.
Rich Benedetto: No, Steve. Right now, we are seeing the cost come down and for a couple reasons. One is the different types of virtual reality. First let’s talk about 360 video. 360 video is very inexpensive to do. We can develop it relatively quickly and put you in an environment where you’re watching a video, but you can look 360 degrees around. That’s pretty inexpensive to do. We’ve been doing projects anywhere from 10-25K for a project in 360 video. When you get to synthetic, that’s a little but more, but you still can get reasonable cost for the training. And where you really make the benefit is reusing the training. So we develop it once and you can use it as many times as you want. So even the synthetic environment – the 3D, almost like a game if you will, environment – we can develop relatively inexpensive.
Steven: Now if somebody decides to get into virtual reality, are they going to always have to be changing systems or something or is this something that as changes come in, it will be cost effective?
Rich: A lot of the updates that we do are on a case-by-case basis, so we price out when it changes. Unless you’re totally revamping a whole different topic and need a different environment, the changes are relatively bitty. The cost of VR right now is not much more than the cost of e-learning development.
Steven: So let’s talk about another myth that comes up that we hear all the time about virtual reality is if we get into that, it’s going to take way too long to develop and so forth. Again, you say that isn’t true anymore.
Rich: No. The tools that were using now, we’re using raising gaming engines that are easier to program. Were using video editing programs that have 360 built in. Originally, 360 video we had a stitch to seams, now software does that for you, so the time to develop is definitely shorter and that results in a cheaper development cost.
Steven: Will Epsilon work with a company to make it really good for what they’re going to do? I mean is it something that kind of develops or is it a one size fits all solution?
Rich: No. It’s definitely a custom development for the customers that we talk to. And we’re a training company first, so our main goal is to make sure that you get the right training for the right task. VR is one of the things we do, but the modality, in this case VR, has to fit the training situation. Our instructional designers are very particular on what kind of modality they use. They want to get the best result for the customer.
Steven: Well, that’s a good point. I mean, have you actually had to go to people and say, “You know what? Right now, virtual reality doesn’t make sense for your kind of business.”
Rich: Absolutely. And we’re one of the lead developers of virtual reality training and even I, someone who has been doing this a while, will tell somebody, “What you want to do is great. It has a lot of bells and whistles in virtual reality, but the best way to do it may be straight video or it may be eLearning and you’re just not going to get the return on investment if you do it in VR.”
Steven: Another concern for a lot of people is not only it’s expensive to set up, but just the equipment you’re going to need. The equipment, they have this vision of a room full of computers that it’s going to require and so forth and it’s super expensive. And again, you say just like you said the whole project isn’t that expensive, that includes the equipment.
Rich: Yeah. We’re seeing drops in equipment quite substantial. When we first started this, probably 3 ½ years ago, you used to be able to buy a complete headset and gear for about $6,000-7,000. Now were seeing standalone units that are like $400. The Oculus Quest, for example, you can buy a 64GB Oculus Quest for, at the time of this recording anyway, today, for about $499 and the VIVE is about $600. So those are the two leading headsets that were using out in the industry and you’re starting to see these prices drop.
Steven: That’s incredible. I mean I guess that just goes along with computers in the sense that as the technology gets better, the price continues to drop. So it’s not something that’s going to keep getting more and more expensive. It’s exactly the opposite.
Rich: Absolutely. And the other thing you’re seeing is people bringing their own devices. So you can take a phone, insert it into a headset and you can watch a 360 video. And those range from Google Cardboard, which is just about free and it’s about a $15-20 headset.
Steven: One other thing, you mentioned gaming before. I think a lot of people think, “Well that’s what this is for. That’s for fun there. It’s for the special kind of things you do at home,” and so forth and try to do something unique and what have you, but this really has entered into the training field, right? It’s something way beyond just gaming.
Rich: Oh, definitely. They predict by the year 2025 it to be a 40 billion dollar industry, VR training. And you’re starting to see some of these big companies go to training now. Even Walmart, they do Black Friday training for all their employees to let them experience it before it happens. We’re doing training in the nuclear power industry. We’re doing training in the Department of Energy and in the submarine force. So we’re starting to see it on both sides and it’s definitely a great way to allow your students to have repetition and practice over and over to something without having a full-fledged facility.
Steven: And for the employees, those that are gamers and have started with this, do they have a heads up?
Rich: Right. So what we find is, and we’ve been demoing this probably for two years now, is that the younger generation will definitely pick it up quicker. There’s no doubt about it. They’ll put it on and most of them it’s not their first time. But even with the, I don’t want to say older, but less experienced user in virtual reality, we find them grabbing ahold of this and within 5-6 minutes, they’re using it like a pro. The key is the development. It’s the programs you have inside the VR and how intuitive they are and what the learning curve is of the application you’re using.
Steven: So, what you’re kind of talking about is fear. Some people just are afraid of it and I’ve heard people say, “Wow, this makes me nauseous. I don’t want to do it,” or, “I think it’s going to make my nauseous.” They usually say that before they tried it. Is that something you have to address?
Rich: Yeah. So while it’s true that there are a small group of people that are hypersensitive to immersive environments, its really very, very few people. People get in there and when they say it’s going to make me nauseous, they may have tried a roller coaster ride. Well if you’re wearing a headset and you’re in a roller coaster, then yeah, it’s going to make you queasy. Regular roller coasters make you queasy. So the key to everything and how we mitigate this is two things. One, technology. Technology, the screen refresh and screen rate that it refreshes that, is becoming faster and faster, which keeps you up to with all the movements. And the other thing is we do user defined movements. In our experience, if you’re sitting in a lab or you’re sitting in a warehouse, for instance, and you want to move to the right, that’s all controlled by you and you’re walking to the right. So as long as that movement stays with you, as long as I don’t put you in a vehicle and start driving you around crazy, you won’t get sick.
Steven: I think, as I listen to you, probably the best way for people to approach this, if they have any kind of fears, is just kind of go for a test drive, right? Because I think once you do it and you spend a little bit of time, you realize that this isn’t quite as complicated as you might think.
Rich: Absolutely. And when we do these demos, sometimes we’ll get people that are what we call ‘stand-byers’, they watch and are onlookers. And what they do is they’ll sit there and they’ll watch for a while and then we say, “Want to try it?” They go, “No, no, no.” I take the straps, I peel them back, so they’re just looking into the thing and they can look into the mask and they can kind of look. Next thing you know, they’re taking it and they’re putting on the head strap and next thing they’re in there for 5-6 minutes and they’re very impressed with it and it wasn’t as scary as they thought it was going to be.
Steven: I remember the one time I tried it, it was exactly that kind of thing. And then once you’re in there and you kind of get the hang of it, then you want to keep playing, just like a kid. I don’t want to stop and that’s kind of the fun part of that.
Rich: Yeah. And if we can make training fun and make people want to do it and you put a little gamification in there, make it a competition, you’d be surprised how many people will do it if they think they’re going to win something or just to get a high score.
Steven: So if somebody’s listening to this and says, “All right. They kind of addressed some questions I might have. I’d kind of like to try it.” Tell us how they should go through it to decide whether it would work for them and how it could be applied.
Rich: Okay. So what we recommend is that you at least try it out, whether you try it out at a arcade, because they have a lot of the VR stuff at arcades now. They also have places where you can go, we have these VR cafe’s. You could try that. You can pick up a headset for a couple hundred bucks. If you’re an organization and just want to get started, there’s a lot of stuff that comes right in the box with it. It’s not necessarily training, but it allows you, it gives your imagination the ability to move forward and try a look. If they’re really interested in training and VR, we’d be happy to talk to them.
Steven: And that’s great. So where do we go to find that out and to get a hold of you, Rich?
Rich: So my email is firstname.lastname@example.org and you can reach me that way. You can also check me out on LinkedIn. It’s @rbenedetto and also Twitter is @rbenedetto also.
Steven: All right, Rich. Well thank you so much. We’re looking forward to learning more about virtual reality. We’ll talk to you again.
Rich: Great. Thanks.