Scott McMillan – Manager of Technology and Innovation at Melbourne Water

If you go to any Virtual Reality conference I can almost guarantee that throughout the day someone will mention both of these things in their presentation:

1. Where Virtual Reality sits on the Gartner Hype Cycle, and;

2. A reminder that you shouldn’t try to make a particular technology fit your problem. Start with the problem and find a technology that will suit it.

I actually used to be one of the presenters that would reiterate the second point. However, now I think it’s over simplistic advice and is no longer helpful for people that are serious about trying something different in their business.

The best way to use each specific technology is to its strength. There is rarely a standalone technology that is a silver bullet for your problem.

So I’ve taken my own advice and, at Melbourne Water, we’re currently working on building what we think is one of the most impressive industrial training systems in the world.

I know that probably sounds like a big statement to make – but let me first explain why I think it’s so ground breaking.

To give some background, you need to understand what Melbourne Water does. Our business might sound like simple and straightforward. But, like for many water companies, a lot of our work happens underground and out of sight of the general public. Our sewer network spreads across 10,000 square kilometres and working in this environment can be tough!

With that in mind, if you’re a manager or designer that works in the office, how do you get an appreciation of what it’s like to work in a live sewer, without actually entering one?

How do you know that the decisions you make when you plan a job are correct if you’ve never seen the job with your own eyes?

I think we’ve found the answer through the development of our Confined Space Entry Simulator. Working with the School of Engineering at Deakin University, who specialise in immersing more than just your eyes and ears, we’ve created something that needs a bunch of different technologies to make it work, not just Virtual Reality.

This simulator uses everything.

From a vehicle winch to lower you 20 metres down into the virtual sewer.

A safe but obvious sewer gas dispenser to stimulate your sense of smell.

A treadmill that tracks your movement to allow you to walk down the sewer pipe.

It even has retro rotary dial phone that rings with updates from our ‘Virtual Control Room’ to give you a unique training experience.

It requires a team to take on different tasks and there is a virtual version of myself built into the training to help out if a group gets stuck.

We very early on realised that we couldn’t only rely on a Virtual Reality program to deliver something amazing. It is the creative and seamless marriage of all of these different technologies that work together to create something truly impressive.

I see this as being a big change that is coming in the immersive technology industry. Developers are going to have to diversify their teams and start employing those with mechatronic type skills to deliver truly interactive programs.

In 2020, the pool of people that are still excited by the mere concept of virtual reality will be depleted and people will be asking for something more.

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