By Benjamin Korth, André Terharen and Moritz Wernecke | Fraunhofer IML – Virtual Reality (VR)-based simulations can help people to orient themselves better at their workplaces or to familiarize themselves with new tasks. Simulations draw on a specific digital way to impart knowledge: the playful learning methods inherent in »serious games«. Intralogistics serves the Innovation Lab as an exemplary field of action.

According to a survey by Bitkom e. V. (Germany’s digital association), about 42 percent of German citizens play computer games on their stationary or mobile devices. In fantasy worlds they regularly push themselves – driven by playful ambition – to peak performances, and immortalize themselves with their high scores. These motivating features of computer games can be particularly useful for training purposes in companies today. The trend for implementing typical elements of games in what are actually non-game environments is called gamification. The game-like character makes sure that employees learn content in a short time without perceiving this process as demanding. High scores, medals and playing against the clock – all typical features of games – are an additional motivation for players.

Gamification helps us to respond individually and playfully to employees’ needs. In the virtual world they can empathise intuitively with their work tasks.

Virtual reality technology (VR) plays an important role in classic computer games as well as in »serious games«. For training purposes in companies, virtual worlds must be modelled as exact three-dimensional images of reality – in contrast to the entertainment sector. Because: the more precisely images can show reality, the more significant the recognition, orientation and learning effects are. The virtual but absolutely realistic environment allows the user to move about by means of their data glasses.

Virtual Training Lab as a test field

The deployment of future technology is being tested on the example of intralogistics in the highly modern Virtual Training Lab in the application centre of the Innovationlab that serves as a space for training, further education and planning. Logistic centres must react flexibly to changes in the markets, products and new services nowadays. At the same time, work environments need to be adapted to the employees’ requirements and to be used sensibly and economically.

In the working world of the future employees will be provided with a lot of information directly on the shop floor. But, in the context of ever more frequent structural changes it is becoming more and more important to provide them with the necessary knowledge quickly and without disrupting ongoing operations.

Preparing employees better for their new tasks

Gamification enables us to respond individually and playfully to employees needs by simulating infrequent working situations, comparing training results or promoting employees’ sensorimotor skills. This is how a warehouse clerk can get to know their workplace better and develop an understanding for significant processes (e.g. storing, commissioning, packaging etc.). And a Head of Logistics can be trained to use augmented reality in the warehouse that helps them to identify weaknesses and problem areas during a warehouse tour and to introduce operative adjustments.

Adjusting planning to employees’ requirements

In practice, it makes sense to use virtual training sessions during the planning phase of a new logistics centre, so no time needs to be lost during commissioning by having to train employees when the real work begins. And what’s more: a logistics planner can move through a warehouse they have designed before it is constructed and gradually improve the design by »experiencing« it themselves. The additional feedback from employees can also help to evaluate current planning, rectify planning mistakes and adjust processes to people’s requirements.

Investigating both real and virtual processes

In the Innovationlab Hybrid Services in Logistics the effectiveness of VR simulations for intralogistics is being investigated. Real processes from the application centre are simulated in virtual reality. This means that users can experience the processes in reality and virtually. This makes it possible to assess the effectiveness of the training immediately.

There is a special focus on evaluating the user friendliness and user experience of the virtual game environment. Usability and user experience questionnaires as well as complaint questionnaires specifically designed to find out about physical workloads help here. And the cognitive workload is also assessed (see also the article about cognitive ergonomics verlinken). At the same time, data are collected about users’ personal biographies, their attitudes and about their assessment of new technologies. Based on the first pre-tests, virtual reality learning environments are expected to have a fundamentally positive, stimulating, motivating and learner-friendly impact. However, there will also be a significant connection between a user’s background, acceptance, skills and confidence with technology and their subjective user experience, intrinsic motivation and performance.

October 2017

About the authors

Benjamin Korth is a scientific employee in the Department of Information Logistics and Decision Support Systems at Fraunhofer IML, André Terharen and Moritz Wernecke work in the Department of Intralogistics and IT Planning.