Serious Labs brings immersive VR to equipment industry

The airline industry would never let a pilot jump into a cockpit without logging the necessary training on a simulator. The Edmonton-based Serious Labs wants to instill the same training expectations for heavy equipment operators.

Created in 2005, Serious Labs leveraged its software designers’ videogame background to enhance the way operators learn their machinery.

“Instead of trying to explain a physics principle, you play a game,” said Jim Colvin, CEO of Serious Labs. “It was a much easier way to teach certain principles rather than using a formula on a chalkboard.”

In its early days, Serious Labs created seat-and-screen-based simulators. The company has since moved on to develop a more immersive virtual reality experience.

“Since we were almost exclusively focused on heavy equipment training, we knew VR was coming,” Colvin said. “We thought if this is good enough for the aeronautics industry and the military, it should be good enough for blue collar workers.”

The first immersive simulator created by Serious Labs recreated the operation of an aerial work platform. Rather than a television screen, the simulator uses an Oculus Rift HMD virtual reality headset. As well, the simulator features OEM controls, to accurately recreate the layout and feel of real-world aerial work platforms (AWP).

Using a headset and a laptop to run the simulator software significantly reduced the price of the simulator, compared to other big screen machines.

“We can do so much with a headset and a laptop that could never have been done before,” Colvin said.

As well, Serious Labs designed the AWP basket to feel as though it is really moving up, down or side to side, by incorporating D-Box actuators. Using the actuators means if the operator in training bumps into an object while using the simulator, they feel it.

“To activate that fight or flight mechanism in your brain, you have to believe you’re really there. That was a flaw of some of the older simulators,” Colvin said. “The motion tricks your body into actually thinking you’re moving. It is a completely and fully immersive experience.”

Serious labs virtual reality VR Oculus rift
Serious Labs has unveiled its latest simulator, a scissor lift training scenario developed in collaboration with Skyjack.


United Rentals also assisted Serious Labs in developing an aerial work platform simulation for the company’s United Academy training program. As well, United Rentals partnered with construction technology venture firm Brick and Mortar Ventures to invest $5 million in Serious Labs to help the company continue development of its VR training modules for heavy equipment.

“It’s imperative that the industry continues to embrace disruptive innovations when it comes to safety,” said Jim Dorris, United Rentals’ vice president of health, safety, environment and sustainability. “United Rentals, in partnership with Serious Labs, has been a first mover in advancing the effectiveness of training and technology for the skills-based workforce in the construction and industrial sectors.”

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Colvin explained the Serious Labs simulators allow rental companies to see the skill level of the operators renting their equipment.

“If you throw them on this, there is nowhere to run. You have to know what you’re doing to score well with this,” Colvin said.

Skyjack partnership with Serious Labs

Now, Serious Labs has unveiled its latest simulator, a scissor lift training scenario developed in collaboration with Skyjack.

“We think a key element in the future of training lies in this type of virtual simulation. Like all areas of our business, technology can fundamentally change the way we do things,” said Skyjack President Brad Boehler. “We want to leverage this technology for ourselves.”

The scenarios support a generic style of scissor lift – one diesel rough terrain and one electric slab – and provide the exact same feel and balance as being on the actual machine. A data-capture system records the operator’s achievements and failures, which can identify weaknesses for future improvement.

“We designed 16 different scenarios that get progressively more difficult,” Colvin said. “If you can actually get through all 16, you know how to operate the machine.”

The new scissor lift scenarios are being designed to comply with the new ANSI standards and the IPAF training program. The IPAF training program meets all the requirements of the new ANSI standards and draws on the vast experience of feedback from more than 1,000 active instructors around the world. The simulator’s training scenarios map 1:1 on assessment for certification validation while tracking the movement of best practices. The scissor lift training scenario is expected to go into commercial production in April.

Immersive virtual reality is an ideal method for training millennials, as well as holding their attention, Colvin added.

“We have 10,000 baby boomers retiring in the United States every day.  There’s not enough skilled labour coming in,” Colvin said. “The millennials are adopting this. Youngsters absolutely embrace this technology.”