A new age in damage prevention: the NY811 virtual reality excavator simulator (VR-X SIM)
In damage prevention, we often find ourselves reactive instead of proactive when trying to determine the root causes of damages and how to prevent them in the future. New York 811 (NY811) is innovating a new way to assess the real-world scenarios that lead to damages with its groundbreaking and innovative new NY811 Mobile Virtual Reality Excavator Simulator (VR-X SIM), which was unveiled last month during a CGA webinar.
The road to innovation
By leveraging virtual reality (VR) simulations completed by actual excavators, NY811’s VR-X SIM (created in collaboration with IPEG) is the first damage prevention technology to protect critical underground infrastructure by predicting and preventing utility strikes, and the specific decisions and errors that cause them.
Inspired by the aviation industry’s flight simulators, New York 811 Executive Director Roger Sampson led the concepting of the VR-X SIM as a powerful tool for creating endless variations of real-world situations and recording excavator responses. Static environments like “Safety Towns” and other existing excavator training simulators can capture and train excavators against several common scenarios, but the VR-X SIM takes damage prevention to a completely new level with its ability to run excavators through hyper-realistic, complex and endlessly customizable simulations. Importantly, the VR-X SIM is not intended only as a training tool, but instead to help NY811 and the industry at large get a much clearer picture of the exact inflection point at which damages occur.
“Aviation simulators are not designed to teach pilots how to do the basics of take-off, landing and flying – they’re intended to throw pilots into unpredictable scenarios and evaluate how their training has prepared them for the unexpected,” said Sampson. “That’s the model we are following with New York 811’s VR-X SIM. There are plenty of resources to train excavators on the basics, but VR-X SIM will capture the variability of the real world and include a range of out-of-the-box scenarios that occur daily on jobsites but which you won’t find in a standard excavator training.”
Powerful technology and realistic simulations
Housed in a 34-foot custom Winnebago, the VR-X simulator allows one excavator and one spotter to be completely immersed in real-life excavation scenarios using virtual reality equipment, including goggles, gloves and a backhoe cab with all of the working functionalities you would find on a jobsite. Before beginning the excavation portion of the simulation, participants will walk through the notification and confirmation steps of the safe digging process.
With cutting-edge 4D technology and design, participants will not only see and hear what is going on around them but will also experience the smell and feel of any damages that occur, including variable feedback from the bucket based on soil conditions, the shake of an explosion, gas odors and flashes of light when a utility is hit.
As experienced excavators move through the scenarios, using VR eye tracking software, they are scored on every movement and decision they make on the jobsite. Once the job is complete, they will be given their score along with feedback and improvements they can make to avoid damages in the future.
Data to move the industry forward
The quantifiable and objective data that is gathered through the simulations will give new insight into root causes of utility damages that can be shared on a national level. NY811 worked with UTTO to develop a scorable system that would take the thousands of detailed data points gathered through each simulation run and translate them into understandable, quantifiable data on when and why damages occur.
“So much of the current state of damage prevention investigations and even DIRT data submissions comes down to liability – it’s very focused on who can be held responsible through the lenses of federal and/or state laws,” said Sampson. “The only way to truly move the industry forward and reverse the trend of rising damages is to get data on the actual root causes of damages – the decisions made and actions taken in the field – instead of who can be held legally liable. Our VR-X SIM is designed to reveal true root causes and shed light on where in the process things are going wrong, so we can create meaningful trainings and interventions that predict and prevent damages.”
During the virtual unveiling NY811 will take attendees inside the simulator to learn more about the technology used and data obtained from excavators participating in these real-life scenarios. As a first of its kind simulator, this is an opportunity you won’t want to miss.