It seems you can hardly turn anywhere these days without being confronted by our much-promised virtual future. From past sci-fi dreams to the development of personal headsets that use our smartphones to immerse us in new worlds, virtual reality is going mainstream.

Many corners of our industry are starting to take note and develop their own uses for this digital realm – designers are seeing the potential for immersing clients in virtual models of their boats before the drawings have even left the studio, while brokers are already developing apps to give virtual workarounds of yachts to tempt potential buyers and charterers from the comfort of their own armchairs.

Training institutions have already made something of a leap toward this computerised future, using multi-screen interactive virtual bridges, for example, to give captains and crews a proper simulator experience in the warmth and safety of the classroom. Jet and airline pilots have been using something similar for decades, sticking potential pilots into sticky situations without the sticky end that the real world might demand.

Taking it one step further to fully immersive virtual reality seems like a logical progression, and it is something that a handful of training institutions are already investigating according to a report by Yachting Pages. Beyond virtual bridges, the Warsash Maritime Academy, in conjunction with Southampton Solent university, is currently nearing completion of stage one of development toward virtual and augmented reality training environments which will include a VR-based training app for crew.

The attractions are obvious – being able to drop crews into a wide variety of environments, from storms to pirate attacks to fires, while tweaking the scenarios and monitoring actions and reactions is certainly something to be welcomed. “We can add elements like how to get to the rescue boats, what to do when there is a leak, and how to stop a fire from getting out of control,” Ingmar Vroege, cofounder of VR agency Bricks and Goggles, tells Yachting Pages. “The technology is there, so it can be implemented.”

The aim for the Warsash development programme is to have a final product and report ready by May 2018, and the project has already won funding from the International Association of Maritime Institutions, along with partnership from a number of marine learning institutes globally. The development of a VR app that crew could use while on board could be particularly interesting, both for training or refresher purposes, or to enable new or potential crew to tour a yacht, its bridge and engine room before stepping on board.

Of course, for those of us who have been through the more intense training – I remember spending five days of my life buried deep in the blackened, burning hulk of an old coaster in Marseille many years ago – it is hard to argue that VR firefighting could really prepare you for the real thing; the confusion, the smoke, the darkness and the trip hazards, for example. But it could add an additional weapon in the arsenal for crews and engineering teams looking to explore specific scenarios on board, custom fitting within the wrapper of their own yacht.

“The technology is at an early stage,” concludes John Wyborn, crew and training director at Bluewater Yachting, “but it has the potential to be truly transformative, not only in the classroom but also on board. One could create an environment where reality and simulation merge to create valuable training scenarios. With VR, we could take this to a whole new level.”


Images courtesy of Heesen Yachts, Bluewater Yachting and Warsash Maritime Academy / Yachting Pages


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