Training for net zero carbon infrastructure through interactive immersive technologies

Authors: Muhammad Zahid Iqbal, Abraham Campbell
Posted: Wed, March 06, 2024 - 3:00:00

By providing realistic and engaging learning experiences, immersive technologies such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), 360-degree video, and simulation have proven to be effective in industrial training contexts. These technologies have been adopted for various purposes, including healthcare [1], teacher training, and nuclear power plant training [2].  

Climate change is a global challenge that requires coordinated action from all sectors of society. In order to combat climate change, CO2 emissions need to fall to zero. One of the key strategies in addressing this challenge is to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 [3]. Essential to achieving this goal is the adoption of net zero carbon infrastructure [4], which can reduce reliance on fossil fuels, enhance the efficiency and resilience of energy systems, and support the development of low-carbon technologies in industry. Net zero carbon infrastructure includes renewable energy resources such as wind, solar, nuclear, and hydro; low-carbon transport modes such as electric vehicles; and carbon-capturing, energy-efficient buildings [5] and appliances. There is an urgent need to invest in net zero carbon infrastructure to improve air quality, promote healthy lifestyles, and improve social equity and environmental justice. Net zero carbon infrastructure is therefore not only a necessity but also an opportunity to build a more sustainable and prosperous future for all. This post explores the opportunities and challenges of using immersive technologies for net zero carbon infrastructure training.   

Main components of net zero carbon infrastructure.

Immersive technologies can potentially revolutionize training for net zero carbon infrastructure development and maintenance. Potential opportunities include:

  • Reducing training costs, risks, and errors by eliminating the need for physical resources, travel, and instructors.
  • By using immersive technologies, trainees can learn and practice the skills and knowledge required for net zero infrastructure in a realistic and immersive way without the need for physical resources, travel, and instructors. A perfect example of this is in wind farms, where maintenance of a turbine may take place over 50 meters above the ground. Immersive technologies can save time, money, and resources, as well as improve safety and quality.
  • Creating realistic simulations of dangerous or hazardous environments that workers may encounter in their jobs, such as oil spills, fires, or explosions. By using immersive technologies, workers can learn how to handle these situations safely and effectively without exposing themselves to physical harm. Therefore, immersive technologies can enhance the safety and efficiency of net zero infrastructure training.
  • Using immersive technologies in net zero infrastructure training can provide data and feedback on learner performance, behavior, and progress. Trainers can monitor and assess how learners interact with the virtual environment, what choices they make, how they solve problems, and how they apply their skills and knowledge. This data and feedback can be used to improve training design and delivery by identifying strengths and weaknesses, providing personalized guidance, and adapting the level of difficulty and complexity.
  • Enhancing the learning experience by creating a more engaging and interactive environment for learners or trainees. By providing learners with realistic and immersive scenarios, these interventions can stimulate their senses, emotions, and cognition, as well as provide immediate feedback and guidance. Therefore, immersive technologies can help to foster a more effective and enjoyable learning process.
  • Leveraging the latest revolution ingenerative AI integration, immersive training can be made more productive, personalized, and content-driven by instructional designers. As generative AI moves forward, its ability to facilitate training will only improve in its ability to generate text, image, video, and even 3D avatars to assist the trainee.
  • Using haptic devices in immersive training is the next step forward, as compared with touchless hand interaction or nonhaptic, controller-based interaction it can achieve greater realism within a training environment. The haptic sense in training has been proven to be one of the best feedback methods for users.

There are also challenges posed in adopting these technologies that need to be addressed. Some of the main challenges include:

  • Acquiring immersive training resources for the first time can be costly and resource intensive because it requires specialized equipment, software, and content development. Depending on the complexity and quality of the simulations, the initial investment and maintenance costs can be high, but most of this is a long-term investment.
  • Implementing immersive training infrastructure may not be compatible with existing systems and platforms, which can create technical difficulties and integration issues. Also, immersive training facilities require more technical support and troubleshooting initially than other forms of training.
  • Accessibility is a commonly discussed issue with immersive training. But with the latest developments in immersive hardware, immersive training material can be designed with accessibility and inclusivity in mind.
  • Implementing new initiatives such as using immersive technologies for learning may face resistance from trainees, who may fear adopting new technologies. Therefore, there is a need for a convincing strategy, such as adopting the latest versions of the technology acceptance model (TAM) [6] and communicating about the value of immersive training, as well as providing adequate training and support.

All of these challenges are not insurmountable and can be overcome with careful planning, evaluation, and collaboration. It is worth considering how we might leverage these technologies to achieve net zero industrial training goals. One way to address the cost challenge is to develop more-affordable immersive technologies such as mobile AR/VR; even the makers of the latest devices are working on reducing the cost, such as the latest Meta VR headset Quest 3. As advances in XR devices proceed rapidly, with year-on-year improvements, Meta and other companies such as Microsoft and HTC should consider allowing users to return their old devices to be refurbished or recycled for a discount on new devices. This will reduce costs for XR users who want the latest devices and reduce the environmental impact.

Another way to address the challenge of accessibility is to make immersive training more accessible to people in developing countries. This can be done by providing training on how to use immersive technologies and by developing immersive training programs tailored to the needs of developing countries. Of course, there are challenges of usability, which can be addressed by designing immersive training programs that are easy to use and more user-friendly.  

Case studies from different industrial training contexts show immersive technologies have the potential to play a significant role in training for net zero carbon infrastructure. By addressing the challenges, we can ensure that immersive technologies can help revolutionize net zero workforce training for a sustainable future.

1. Brooks, A.L. Gaming, VR, and immersive technologies for education/training. In Recent Advances in Technologies for Inclusive Well-Being: Virtual Patients, Gamification and Simulation. Springer, 2021, 17–29.
2. opov, O.O. et al. Immersive technology for training and professional development of nuclear power plants personnel. Proc. of the 4th International Workshop on Augmented Reality in Education, 2021.
4. Bouckaert, S. et al. Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector. International Energy Agency, 2021.
5. Kennedy, C.A., Ibrahim,N., and Hoornweg,D. Low-carbon infrastructure strategies for cities. Nature Climate Change 4, 5 (2014), 343–346.
6. Thomas, R.J., O'Hare, G., and Coyle, D. Understanding technology acceptance in smart agriculture: A systematic review of empirical research in crop production. Technological Forecasting and Social Change 189 (2023),122374.

Posted in: on Wed, March 06, 2024 - 3:00:00

Muhammad Zahid Iqbal

Muhammad Zahid Iqbal is an assistant professor in immersive technologies at Teesside University. He also works as an associate faculty member at the University of Glasgow. He completed Ph.D. in computer science with a specialization in immersive technologies from University College Dublin. His research vision is to explore the convergence of immersive technology, digital twins, the metaverse, and digital transformations. [email protected]
View All Muhammad Zahid Iqbal's Posts

Abraham Campbell

Abraham Campbell is an assistant professor at University College Dublin, Ireland. He also served as faculty member of Beijing-Dublin International College, a joint initiative between UCD and BJUT. He is a Funded Investigator for the CONSUS SFI Center and was a Collaborator on the EU-Funded AHA—AdHd Augmented Project. [email protected]
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