In this three-part series, experts from different fields explain how immersive technologies can make a real impact on society and business. Artists building virtual worlds, images constantly flowing on AR glasses… What are the possibilities? In the first interview, Jens Thiemann talks immersive technologies and training
by Margherita Concina | 04 Jun, 2021
Jens Thiemann is the CEO of Firedrill, a company that provides fire training for corporates through the use of Augmented Reality. He was formerly the CEO of VRTX Labs, an immersive technology development company with a variety of projects under its belt. After creating virtual museum exhibitions, industrial construction simulators and much more, Jens now uses his knowledge to provide life-saving training
How can immersive technologies be used to improve training?
Immersive technologies allow you to break out of lecture- or reading-based learning. In particular, augmented reality can be easily used on a phone, which gives people the opportunity to learn at their own pace and practice as many times as they want. Everyone has a different learning speed, a different way of processing and condensing knowledge at different intervals. This applies to all aspects of learning.
Also, the more your sensory impressions match reality, the better you internalize things. For example, there are already VR applications today that simulate public speaking in front of hundreds of people. If you sit down and practice a presentation, or look up Google tips like: “Always smile” or “make eye contact”, it doesn’t even come close to the real thing. I believe that in a training context, individualization, learning at one's own pace, and the tangible implementation of textual learning information provide an insane advantage.
The term 'Immersive Technologies' covers a range of different technologies which provide you with the experience of being immersed in, or enable you to view or interact with simulated objects and environments. These range from 360-degree photography and video to Virtual and Augmented Reality.
Augmented Reality: Animations, videos, graphics, 3D objects, andinteractive content can be viewed through mobile devices, virtual reality headsets or smart glasses to reveal additional information about physical spaces and real-world objects.
Your app FIREDRILL is an example of AR-facilitated training in action. How does immersive technology fill in the gaps in traditional fire safety training?
Well, we began this project by asking employees: How well do you feel prepared for an emergency? And usually, people were very quiet, or they admitted that they didn’t feel very prepared at all. These days, corporate fire safety training mostly consists of large group exercises, often with the help of firefighters. Which is great, but it doesn’t much to help the individual. Imagine someone got sick on the day of the fire drill: They wouldn’t get that key information for another year in most cases. You can’t afford that for a potential life-threatening situation.
Our immersive technology merges learning with physical movement. You can't do the training by sitting in your chair, leaning back and just looking at some pictures. You have to physically walk in the building to complete it. So you are more engaged and stimulated, and you see the information displayed in your real environment as opposed to a 2D monitor. Also, it’s more fun. The user feedback is extremely positive, because people have a good time using this new technology and learn more about their environment than doing it the “classic” way.
Do you find that fun is an important aspect of learning?
With us, it’s more about the novelty: People wouldn’t expect their cellphones to provide them with all this information and this route guidance out of nowhere, so it’s enough to put a smile on their faces. I'm sure that will wear off over time, but right now we're in a phase where we can create a new perspective just by letting users experience the technology.
But I do think that fun helps to learn, because learning is very much tied to emotion. For example, when I'm in a bad mood and I have to sit through a training session, I don't have the feeling that the information is getting through or sticks very well. And you also have to consider that when you remember what you’ve learned, that process is also tinted with emotion. I could still tell you how it felt to revise for my finals or write my Bachelor’s thesis, locked in my room from morning to night for four weeks straight. And that was fifteen or twenty years ago. I think emotion is a good way of enhancing your learning experience. Lastly, when people are in a good mood, they’re more open to new stimuli and more inclined to get involved with new things.
And lastly, can immersive technologies change the future?
I firmly believe that they can. So, first, you have to distinguish between AR and VR, because I don’t think the latter will have a massive societal impact in the next five or ten years. It’s too tiring for your body, you can’t sustain it for hours on end. You would put yourself in a coma – we’re not in the Matrix. That will remain a niche for the foreseeable future.
AR is another story, from my point of view. It’s an open secret that many companies are working on smart glasses at the moment. We already have Augmented Reality on our phones, but once you’re able to wear it on your nose all the time, everyone will be walking around with a device that’s permanently collecting and streaming information. Is this unproblematic? Absolutely not. It can be scary when you look at data networks and privacy. It’s a double-edged sword, but as a society, we will try it out and test how far we are willing to go.