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South African Chainsaw Operators Undergoing VR Training

Virtual reality technology has transcended its popularity in gaming. Today VR tech is making great strides in the field of medicine, commerce and many more sectors. Now, the Forestry of South Africa or FSA has developed a VR-assisted training programme for its chainsaw operators.

The technology helps operators acclimatise to the working of the dangerous chainsaw machinery in a secure and safe environment before they lay hands on the real machinery. While large commercial plantations do not hire as many chainsaw operators today, smaller plantations are always in need of skilled and appropriately trained staff.

Forestry departments all over the world have used virtual reality simulations before, but this is the first instance that the technology is being used to train chainsaw operators.

Why Choose VR to Train Chainsaw Operators

VR training’s benefits for chainsaw operators are manifold. Firstly, the cost of training staff practically is expensive. Therefore, an alternative method of training was necessary, which would not only be more cost-effective but also provide adequate expertise to operators without handling the real machinery.

Other problems that have contributed to the adoption of a VR chainsaw training programme include unwieldy class sizes and the lack of real trees to be used for practice.

Norman Dlamini, FSA’s business development director claims that VR technology is the future of training and skill development programmes. He feels that the ability of virtual reality to simulate the real environments and situations is apt for chainsaw operators to learn and retain more information about their job. This greater retention is essential when performing the work in real-world situations.

Dlamini explained how the FSA used sensors on chainsaws to create an authentic replica in the virtual world for operators to train with. To work, the system simply needs a computer, a VR headset, the chainsaw laden with sensors a mobile gazebo, customised for this purpose. The entire hardware set up is worth around R35,000, which is equivalent to around 1900 Pound sterling. However, the software needed to run the simulation is free to all FSA members.

Fibre Processing and Manufacturing Sector Education and Training Authority or FP&M Seta has funded a major portion of the training project. Michael Peter, the executive director at the FSA, says that the training project does not simply extend to the 11 of the big scale forestry companies, but includes around 1300 medium-scale and 20,000 small scale operators as well. This overarching inclusion should assist in the training of all South African chainsaw operators.

Improvements to the Technology

The initial concept of the VR training has been well-received by industry insiders. However, based upon feedback, Dlamini claims that version 2.0 is already under development. Plans include the removal or minimisation of wires to prevent movement obstruction. The other improvement will be the addition of VR gloves improving feedback from the simulation, such as recreating the vibration from a real chainsaw. This will further enhance the realism aspect of the training and will better equip trainees to operate the chainsaw.


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