Canadian-based, Serious Labs seeks to apply the same benefit as seen on multi-million dollar flight simulators to small pieces of construction and oilfield equipment. This change in scale required a completely new way to consider the technology and business model of computer-based and simulator training. VR is a disruptive technology that had many challenges along the way, but is now beginning to offer tremendous benefits.

The company started in March 2005 (then 3D Interactive) in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with a simple vision of leveraging video game technology for business. This started in the form of using video games’ real-time rendering capability to visualize environments, such as model homes or a virtual tour. In 2007, 3DI was asked to do a realistic visualization of heavy equipment – a jobsite with a boom lift.

A series of prototypes resulted in the first version of an Articulated Boom Lift Simulator. This simulator was demonstrated at the ConExpo tradeshow in Las Vegas and sparked discussion with Caterpillar, resulting in two new simulators, one which was commissioned for both Caterpillar and the US Army. The concept of elevating the technology from a game engine to a world-class simulator with high utility for training was born.

When CEO Jim Colvin came on board in 2012, he led a negotiation with United Rentals to produce their online training for the Core 4 equipment (Boom Lift, Scissor Lift, Forklift, Rough Terrain Forklift), as well as Dirt Certification and Fall Production.

Serious Labs continues to innovate in the simulation and online training space and has launched four more simulators.

Easy Engineering: What are the main areas of activity of the company?

SERIOUS LABS: Our guiding mission is to shape a safer, more engaged global workforce. We offer VR training and assessment simulators for cranes and MEWPs.

We believe that today we are faced with a new digital workforce. These are game, internet and smart phone power-users who expect to be engaged by training technologies rather than the traditional classroom methods. Simply putting a PowerPoint on a screen, or courses online, is no longer enough. They prefer game-based learning where they can be immersed in a jobsite and learn by doing.

And, by being able to immerse a trainee into a dangerous situation risk-free, it gives them an actual worksite experience that can’t be replicated in real life. By letting them make mistakes in a virtual world, they learn respect for the equipment and learn the right way to operate it which makes them safer and more competent at the same time.

E.E: What’s the news for 2021 about new products?

SERIOUS LABS: In January this year, Serious Labs announced a pilot of its MEWP operator training simulator for the UK’s HS2 rail line, the largest infrastructure project in Europe. The HS2’s first phase alone involves the construction of more than 300 bridges and 70 viaducts. Its contractors expect to recruit approximately 22,000 roles in the coming years – offering people a path back into work after the pandemic, but creating a challenge for operators who may not be familiar with operating MEWPs.

Serious Labs’ VR training simulator will be used to carry out short 30-minute, COVID-19-safe training assessments of all MEWP operators on the Align JV jobsite. Digital reports will provide data for review of the operator’s full range of skills, knowledge, and attitude, highlighting key areas where improvements could be made. The operators will be assessed throughout the project at specified intervals to map their progress with a goal of continually improving their expertise on MEWPs to help ensure jobsite safety.

The HS2 jobsite is just the beginning of where we see training heading in the future. We see the ability to train and measure the competency of an operator as the future of operator training and certification in the aerial and rental industries, particularly in the COVID world and beyond.

In 2021, we will be announcing new projects and new products. Stay tuned!

E.E: What are the ranges of products?

SERIOUS LABS: 16 years since our beginning, we have won many awards and are known around the world as one of the top simulation development studios for construction equipment. We offer companies a significant competitive advantage in the form of safe and accessible training for MEWPs and cranes, quick and convenient setup, and objective operator assessment. This is especially advantageous during the current pandemic. We have delivered VR solutions for multiple industry leaders around the globe, including United Rentals, Bechtel, DOW, Syncrude, the U.S. Department of Energy, Shell, Singapore International Airlines, British Airways, Rapid Access, Loxam, Riwal, and Nationwide Platforms.

E.E: At what stage is the market where you are currently active?

SERIOUS LABS: VR training for equipment operation is an emerging market. We are developing new technologies, working with new partners in new industries. It’s a very exciting time.

Eventually, some form of a VR headset will be as common as a standard-issue laptop and cellphone when an employee is being onboarded regardless of the industry. You’ll just download whatever course you’re supposed to be taking into the headset, and then you’ll take it. It’s much more efficient and effective.

E.E: What can you tell us about market trends?

SERIOUS LABS: Prior to the pandemic, industrial and engineering training applications in the VR market were expected to reach $3.8 billion by 2023. We believe the impact of COVID-19 on traditional classroom training and group instruction will accelerate this adoption, including in the access industry.

As the 5G network rolls out, it will support other emerging technologies. 5G along with these new technologies is going to help boost post-COVID recovery by creating new business models and increasing productivity. The adoption of emerging technology may still be slow, but it will increase as 5G becomes more commonplace. Businesses that can start adjusting and evolving early are going to experience the benefits and create a place for themselves in the post-COVID world.

E.E: What are the most innovative products marketed?

SERIOUS LABS: Our most innovative product is our ESP Report that measures the operator telemactics of the trainee.

Telematics has seen a sharp rise in popularity and global adoption in the heavy equipment industry over the last few years. The technology helps to answer questions that change the way machines are serviced, like helping rental stores schedule preventive maintenance, or offering ”descriptive data” to allow rental companies to know what’s going on inside of the machine. Telematics, however, is not only measurement for equipment; it is now being applied to human-machine interaction as well.

One of the key ways Serious Labs uses telematics is for assessment. The MEWP simulator objectively measures over 130 data points of “Operator Telematics” values to allow the trainer to provide highly detailed information to help the user increase their proficiency quickly. An Efficiency, Safety, Proficiency (ESP™) score combines how efficiently the operator completes tasks, and how safely they do it, to determine an overall proficiency score, allowing for a large number of operators to be assessed relatively quickly.

In every session, we’re measuring things like how quickly they’re moving the controls, where operators are looking, and how they’re distributing the machine’s weight. That lets us know their proficiency with much more detail and reliability than we’d ever be able to get from human assessment alone.

E.E: What estimations do you have for 2021?

SERIOUS LABS: VR is taking off everywhere. VR offers tremendous benefits in terms of assessment and skills-building, and there are a few different ways rental companies can bring that to customers. The simulators are so portable that they can be set up virtually anywhere—in-store, on the worksite, in an office, and so on.