Twenty-five years ago virtual reality was the new kid on the block with its only problem the technology to support it wasn’t there.
Today, people speak about the second age of virtual reality. Paul Olckers knows all about this, he’s been at the forefront of virtual reality since 1993.
5DT or Fifth Dimension Technologies now has offices in Orlando, Florida USA where more than 800 companies vie for US defence and military contracts, Hyderabad, Brisbane – and Pretoria where it all started.
His company has installed more than 200 simulators across the world for more than 125 different vehicles, machines and aircraft. Clients range from miners to truckers, construction companies and the military.
“We mainly do operator training simulators,” he said at the Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) 2018 exhibition at Waterkloof Air Force Base where he has been a regular exhibitor, “but with automation and autonomous cars on the horizon, there are going to be less operators needing training and more maintenance so we are moving in that direction.”
At present he has two types of training environments, a headset-based virtual reality (VR) system and a classroom type system where the operator sits behind the controls of the truck, earthmover or aircraft in front of computer screens. The chair moves up and down, left and right, yawing and pitching depending on the decision taken by the student – six degrees of movement explains Olckers with force feedback on the steering wheel.
“We try to stimulate all the senses during simulation,” he explains, “to make it as real as possible”.
The sensation of yawing is particularly important for aspirant truck drivers to understand how it feels when they get into looming jack-knife situations, without doing it when they’re behind the wheel of an actual truck.
Terrain can be altered to whatever the client needs – in the case of truck drivers; simulated urban driving environments to off-road.
The simulator can also be mounted in a container to take training to students in the field.
Olckers supplied 18 units to the South African Army’s Construction Regiment for the training of personnel from earthmoving operators to truck drivers. He also supplied the SA Air Force with simulators to train aircrew on different aircraft types from the DakotaC-47TP to the C-130, Boeing 707 and the Cessna 208.
“It’s important to use simulators in trucking and mining because those companies want every vehicle to be productive,” he explained.
Simulators are also kinder on actual vehicles; especially clutches and starter motors, as well as the environment.
“You don’t get operators or drivers spewing hydrocarbons into the air like you do with learner drivers on real trucks stalling and starting all the time.
“Customers tell us using simulators cuts down on total training time of operators between 50 and 60%, but we’re not cutting out reality-based training, there’s no substitute for that. We highly recommend it.
“We always say we make operators safer, more productive and less destructive on machines and environment,” he said.
5DT was at AAD2018 to cement its ongoing relationships with the SA Army and Air Force and to put its simulator training front and centre to accompany the AfricaTruck project – whenever budgetary constraints allow the SANDF to finally set about replacing its ageing Samil transport fleet.