If you’re looking to hire a new crane operator, I’m not your guy. At least not yet!
When I visited TPC Training in suburban Chicago to try out the desktop version of a couple of Industrial Training International’s virtual reality crane training programs, I didn’t do very well. OK, I stunk. Mega-apologies to the virtual dude I clipped with the load I was maneuvering. Twice.
All joking aside, I found ITI’s software immersive and compelling, and the simulation I used felt all-too real. If it weren’t for the conversation that was taking place behind me, I really think I could have gotten completely caught up in the moment. Learning how to use the four different levers to move the load quickly and safely would have taken more time to master. I think I would have gotten there eventually, but I was certainly not as adept from the get-go at using the equipment as my colleague, Mike Oleshko, who told me he “plays a lot of videogames.”
I used to play my share of Atari 5200 and Commodore 64 games back in the day, and I was really terrible at the arcade game Dragon’s Lair, the first animated game, but I tried really hard. Doesn’t that count?
What I really appreciated about the crane simulation software was that, besides feeling real or at least virtually so, there’s a voice instructing you what to do along the way—“Hoist up,” “raise the boom,” etc. There’s also a virtual person and floating hand that directs you along the way. When you do something wrong or dangerous like, ahem, hitting someone with the equipment, the software will definitely let you know it.
It also offers a few surprises that we uncovered. When Mike turned the engine off by mistake, it warned him not to do that.
I found the Oculus headset comfortable, the sound quality good and the controllers easy to maneuver. I never felt dizzy or disoriented. What would have helped me would have been an arrow pointing to the correct controller to use in the beginning—at least until I got comfortable.
Using the VR technology does offer a distinct advantage over training on the real deal: You can’t break the equipment or hurt anyone. I guess you could drop the headset on someone wearing sandals if you’re not careful, but that’s about it. When I tried swinging the crane wildly just for fun, I knew that the only thing I was hurting was my time and operation score.
Even though I was testing the beginner software, I feel like it would have taken me a couple of more hours of practice just to get my bearings with the technology to be able to move the load properly and comfortably. More advanced techniques would have taken even more time.
I do have a new appreciation for crane operation; it’s not easy. I think I’ll stick to my day job.