Line workers and technicians for Detroit-based DTE Energy will be trained on how to handle dangerous situations such as repairing downed high-voltage wires with the use of virtual reality headsets through a partnership with Royal Oak-based design and technology firm Vectorform.
“We’re just getting started with this technology, and it is the tip of the iceberg in terms of how we coach, teach, and evaluate our safety protocols out in the field,” says Shawn Patterson, vice president and chief learning officer at DTE Energy.
Patterson says DTE has around 3,500 field personnel that inspect and repair downed power wires, wind turbines, natural gas systems, power plants, and other infrastructure.
“When our strategic partner, Vectorform, brought this technology to our attention, the prices were coming down, but more importantly the system was ready,” he says. “Our primary goal is to have a safe and effective workforce, and this platform places our workers in dangerous situations but in a virtual environment. Our goal is to always improve safety out in the field.”
He says the partnership will develop next-generation training simulations, including exercises in life-like virtual space without exposure to daily real-world dangers. When wearing the so-called Vive headset, technicians are able to experience training with a 110-degree field of view and 360-degree motion tracking.
“We’ve been evaluating the technology for nine months, and when we saw how promising it was for training purposes, we brought it to DTE Energy,” says Kurt Steckling, co-founder and CEO of Vectorform. “The system stimulates the brain and puts the user in a real world repair environment, and they will actually feel fear but in a safe environment. The technology is a quantum leap in terms of maximizing memory retention in an immersive experience.”
Vectorform and DTE Energy also have partnered on a mobile platform, called Powerley, designed to allow utility companies to present real-time energy consumption information to their customers. Customers can track their energy consumption patterns, and complete breakdowns of their energy consumption. Powerley has nearly 20 employees and recently moved to new offices in downtown Royal Oak. â€‹