November 1, 2022 – Southern Water, a UK-based utility services company, recently announced that it is using virtual reality (VR) to improve how it responds to pollution incidents across the UK water and wastewater network.
The company’s Bluewave and Learning and Development team has leveraged VR’s ability to provide virtual environments, which enables teams to train in conditions that simulate the real-life stress of a live accident. As a result, Southern Water says it has been able to fine-tune and improve how it responds in a real-world environment, which will ultimately help reduce the number of pollution incidents and their impact on society and the environment.
A direct incident could be the first time a first responder has encountered the scale of potential contamination risks, according to the company. Southern Water said it needs to enable its operational teams to experience a pollution incident more realistically, as well as enabling teams to learn how to put classroom training into practice, without having to wait for a live incident where the stakes can be much higher.
The company first tested how it could conduct “pollution drills” as guided conversations with experts, but there were limitations. Instead, as part of the process of exploring different ways to bring the experience to life, I began to consider virtual reality as a possible solution.
With the high levels of realism and immersion that VR can offer, the technology provides the perfect solution for utility companies, providing a realistic experience for learners that can provide a truly hands-on experience that can be applied to real-life situations. Additionally, VR has the added advantage of being a more cost-effective way to train and prepare operational teams.
Another feature that VR brought to Southern Water is safety. As a 24/7 business, the water company sites are run continuously to ensure that any issues that occur are quickly identified and corrected as quickly as possible. First responders (those who are the first to attend when an accident occurs) must remember many critical steps to prevent harm to the environment, but also to ensure their safety. The capabilities of VR technology mean that it is possible to safely replicate high pressure environments while still providing invaluable training experiences for operational teams – experiences that were difficult to achieve, as well as potentially more dangerous if conducted in a real-life training scenario.
As a result, Southern Water has developed a proof-of-concept virtual reality — something that a utility provider can quickly test and learn from — with operational teams, along with a local VR training company that has previous experience working with water companies.
The proof of concept developed allows Southern Water’s operational teams to respond to a pollution incident, and critically provides a fail-safe environment where teams are able to make mistakes without significant real-world impact. The proof-of-concept also allows users to explore a virtual site in order to identify potential error, take samples, take pictures, and get feedback on their experience.
Southern Water said it plans to complete its proof-of-concept testing, before moving to further roll out the training experience as part of the company’s broader pollution training to help first responders perform more effectively during an accident.
Image credit: Water of the South
Sam is the founder and managing editor of Auganix. With a background in research and report writing, he has been covering XR industry news for the past five years.