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Blast Furnace Experience (Lynsey Chutel/Quartz)

ArcelorMittal South Africa Using VR To Test For Fear Of Heights In Staff

New virtual reality experience could save lives.

A new virtual reality (VR) experience is being used to help test for fear of heights in works who would be responsible for repairing and maintain the two blast furnaces on the Vanderbijlpark plant nearly 50 miles outside of Johannesburg. The VR training is dubbed the Blast Furnace Experience and draws from the gaming world with a serious focus in hopes of saving lives, having been commissioned by ArcelorMittal South Africa.

Vanderbijlpark Plant

According to a report published by ArcelorMittal the company lost three works which, though the deaths were not detailed or a cause given, is a driving factor in ensuring new training is brought in to stop this from happening again. To achieve the Blast Furnace Experience the company worked in collaboration with trainers LRMG Performance Agency and animation and game developers Sea Monster. The immersive experience includes a number of moving platforms that imitates the lift while fans give the user the experience of wind speed hundreds of feet in the air. Lynsey Chutel from Quartz commented on how the experience left her in a cold sweat with a racing heart, prompting a fear of heights even though she had no idea.

“In the past we would take them up to the heights and see if there are any signs of fear but there was no science behind that,” said Gerda Fourie, learning experience design specialist at ArcelorMittal South Africa.

The Blast Furnace Experience opened in January and has since been used to test around 400 trainees already finding eight that had a crippling fear of heights – all of whom had no idea they would be scared said Foruie. The product is not only saving lives but only money, with the investment of around $160,000 (USD) to create the experience reported to have saved millions to what a fatality would cost the company.

The team at Sea Monster specifically design an animated world, rather than using a 360-camera to capture the environment as they wanted the end result to be interactive. Users are tasked with completing a simple colour and shape exercise in a simulated height, with the team at Sea Monster available to expand it if possible. The product also makes use of a real heart rate monitor to allow for both the user and the trainer to keep track of the effects of the increase in height.

“It is a technology that we need to evaluate very cautiously and we need to embrace a scientific process to do so but obviously in a creative context,” said Glenn Gillis of Sea Monster.

You can see the Blast Furnace Experience in action in the below video and for more stories like this in the future, keep reading VRFocus.

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