Recently, a multi-sensory suit has begun trials to provide virtual training scenarios. Let’s take a look at the technology behind them, and potential future applications.

The rise in immersive technology

Immersive and interactive elements have long since been utilized in the entertainment industry, especially when it comes to online casino games. These immersive elements make the gameplay more authentic and believable, transporting the player into a virtual world. Take the slot game in the UK, Big Bass Bonanza, for example – the graphic design features numerous moving fish and fishermen symbols, and begins with an angler casting and reeling in the line to further the fishing experience. Players can then interact with the game using touchscreens and buttons, which then generates relevant vibrations and sound effects to mirror the outcome. 

Now, imagine that you could be the fisherman, and literally cast the rod and interact with the game using your own hands – this is what extended reality (XR) aims to provide, which consists of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR). Put simply, VR uses sensors and displays (usually within clothing and headsets) to create an interactive simulation of a fictional reality. The highest resolution VR headset ensures detailed and lifelike simulations, enhancing the effectiveness of training across industries like aviation, medicine, and engineering. This is distinct from the often conflated concept of AR, which enhances the real world. In other words, VR creates a new vision, whereas AR adds to what you can already see – and MR combines the two.

Although XR is beginning to be used in more and more entertainment applications, these solutions often only play upon the senses of sight and sound – until now, that is. 

XR suits trialed for training 

In Singapore, the Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX), National University of Singapore (NUS) and Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) joined together to create a multi-sensory suit that can be used for training employees. These suits combine both elements of physical reality and VR to create immersive virtual environments, making it the first of its kind. In doing so, the suits allow the SCDF to train employees in how to handle difficult and dangerous situations, without actually putting anyone in danger.

The suits create a virtual scenario in which the user can smell a custom-made gasoline and smoke-like scent, whilst the temperature rises from the heating elements. The user then takes a replication of a tool and cuts into a part of a scrap car, which matches the scenario in VR. In doing so, the user will feel like they are literally carrying out the task they are seeing in VR. Though this is purported to eventually be rolled out to emergency services first, the aim is to use these for training in a variety of industries.

Future of XR in the virtual workplace

Though remote working is seeing a decline, a reported 27% of businesses in the US say that their employees regularly or always work from home, highlighting the continued prevalence of hybrid and virtual office models. Whilst this can boast many benefits for businesses and employees alike, such as reduced infrastructure expenditure and increased flexibility, this can of course lack the benefits of face-to-face interaction and physical training sessions. 

However, with the development of XR for training, this could eventually allow remote employees to one day physically interact within a fully virtual environment. It could also allow for remote training days, reducing the need for travel. Although this is likely a long way from being reality, the potential applications for businesses in the future are endless.