EdSim Competition: Highwire

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High voltage power work
High voltage power work is one of the top 10 deadliest jobs in the United States.

EdSim Competition: Highwire

Highwire is a VR training simulation that allows high school students to get a glimpse of what it is like to be a high-voltage journeyman lineman, working six stories off the ground to repair damaged electrical lines and restore power to nearby communities. It is our submission to the EdSim Competition

Engagement

In our simulation, the player will wear an authentic safety harness and protective gear and enter a Articulating Overcenter Aerial Device Lift Bucket that, while secured safely to the floor, shifts and moves under the player’s feet in sync with the virtual reality simulation as though it were hovering high above the ground. Players will put on a wireless head-mounted display and find themselves experiencing a 360-degree panoramic environment depicting a cloud-covered sky after a serious storm.  

The experience begins with a newscast describing a widespread power outage affecting hundreds of customers in the nearby community. The player hears a broadcast reporting that electrical crews are working urgently to restore power to homes, businesses and critical city services. The scene fades in with the player standing in the bucket. The player is tasked to complete several steps in order to restore power at this location: raising and lowering a bucket and hanging rigid safety insulators so that repairs can begin. Players will complete their tasks using a pole tool outfitted for VR tracking that is comparable in length and weight to what they would use in a real-life setting.  Players will experience gusts of wind synchronized with the vr experience, provided in real life by network controlled fan units, further immersing them in this high altitude experience.

Players must accomplish their tasks within a designated amount of time in simulated post-storm conditions where high winds and height play a factor.

The target audience for this experience will be high school seniors, community college students and millennials who are exploring alternative routes for post-secondary education than four-year college. Women would also be targets to help the industry’s goal to diversify their workforce. The ideal student would be one that has a basic understanding of algebra, enjoys travel, working outdoors as part of a team and is comfortable working at height.

Our virtual reality simulation will use leading-edge technology, including some newly released wireless VR hardware, in combination with industry standard hardware, including the safety harness, lift bucket and pole, to enhance player immersion. The experience will use the leading VR development environment, Unity 3D, to render in VR game play mechanics typically found in commercial games: highly detailed models and textures, spatial audio, player achievement tracking, win or lose states, and real-time interactivity.

Learning outcomes

Player at height
Player at work height, six stories up.

First, players will discover if they can tolerate working at extreme heights. Industry experts estimate that approximately 20 percent of students interested in becoming journeymen linemen washout of the program due to a fear of heights, which leads to wasted effort, time and money by both the students and educators.

This VR experience would help identify students who aren’t able to work at height before they enter the pre-apprenticeship boot camp, saving the students the $18,000 boot-camp tuition and three months of time, and allowing the training institution to focus on students who have a higher chance at success without losing valuable slots every cycle. Training organization waiting lists - which are capped at 300 students - would become more streamlined and ensure that the limited space availability is reserved for students most likely to be successful in this industry.

The simulation would mirror learning objectives covered in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee (JATC) curriculum, which include improving physical dexterity, practicing simple problem solving, learning to follow verbal instructions and learning basic mechanical skills.

An accident that happens as a high voltage journeyman lineman is life threatening and severe. In the experience, students who make a mistake will receive immediate feedback through haptic rumble, intense vibrations, and visual and sound effects. These errors will deliver an immediate “shock” to the player and cause a game-over. The proctor/instructor running the experience would determine whether the player should end the simulation or try again. Students who cannot tolerate heights will know soon after starting the simulation based on their body’s reactions to the simulated environment.

Implementation strategy

Player in panoramic setting
Player in a panoramic setting

This experience would require a few tools of the trade: an industry standard lift bucket, lineman pole tool (called a hot stick), safety harness, bucket controls, and tool apron. VR equipment would include an HTC Vive with TP-Link wireless HMD connection, integrated speakers, HTC wireless trackers that would be affixed to the lineman’s pole, and a tailored computer capable of running the simulation.

Robocognito would train the instructor or proctor to run the experience so there would be no day-to-day expense for using the simulation. As with any custom software application, there could be ongoing maintenance needs related to software updates or an occasional need for technical support. In most cases, Robocognito would provide software and hardware diagnostic support via remote access. Robocognito would work closely with subject matter experts during the development process to ensure that the experience could be implemented practically in a learning environment. We expect that the initial hardware and software would have a lifespan of about two years before updates are needed to maintain compatibility; hardware life will depend on frequency of use, but with few moving parts, wireless tracking for the input and display, and a fixed player position, physical wear and tear should be minimal.

For any issues that can’t be resolved with remote access, HTC Business support is available. Also, since the HTC Vive hardware is widely available, it can be replaced as needed with a simple trip to an electronics store or by placing an online order. Industry analysts expect the cost for hardware to continue to drop, making it even more affordable and accessible over time.

Contact us if you'd like to learn more about the project or how we might be able to help your organization.