US Sailing education director Stu Gilfillen wasn’t entirely sure how he would integrate virtual reality into his curriculum, but he knew that when he saw MarineVerse’s system that it had a place in the bigger world of sailing.
MarineVerse uses HTC Vive or Oculus goggles to create an immersive virtual-reality experience that teaches sailing and creates racing opportunities, even in the middle of winter. “We let staff members who have no sailing experience whatsoever try it, all the way to Olympians, and all say the same thing: ‘That’s so cool, I can see how you use it to teach people,’ ” Gilfillen says. “You can use it if you’re in a cold-weather environment or you have no access to water — and there’s no fear factor.”
He plans to connect the programming, somehow, with US Sailing’s on-water training. “As the technology cost decreases, the options open up for us,” he says. “There are really cool opportunities here for new pathways for folks to learn.”
Gilfillen and his sailors are far from alone. Augmented, mixed and virtual reality technologies are the progression of 3-D animation, with various forms offering all kinds of promise for the marine industry. Instead of viewing animation on screens, the emerging tech allows for the creation of worlds around us.
Because different types of technologies are emerging, they’re increasingly classified under the umbrella of extended reality, or XR. Companies such as TIS use extended reality to help others create training and marketing programs, including e-learning for health care and safety training in risk-free environments. Creating a risk-free environment can be a similar boon to, say, sailing, because in real life, students can feel intimidated the first time they step aboard, Gilfillen says.
The technology can be so helpful that it may become the way future generations learn. Microsoft, Google and Apple all have designs on making their versions of the technology ubiquitous in K-12 and college classrooms, according to GeekWire. China already has made the technology part of its national education strategy.
All forms are also being tested in manufacturing and design. In January, Ford announced that its designers were learning to create 3-D cars in virtual reality.
An Immersive Experience
On the water, it’s critical to have situational awareness, says Greg Dziemidowicz, CEO of Australian company MarineVerse, which makes virtual-reality sailing applications for HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Oculus Go. Its flagship programs are VR Regatta and Big Breezy Boat. “We know that water sports look and feel differently on the water than they do on a screen,” Dziemidowicz says. “With VR, you’re far from the water, but it creates the feeling of immersion.”
Coaches can see whether novices pick up on concepts such as “upwind” and assist the students who don’t, Dziemidowicz says. Coaches also can work with high-performance team members in various parts of the world.
The equipment required to use immersive programs also is evolving. A newly launched headset will not require a personal computer, smartphone or other sensor equipment because it is equipped with cameras. “It’s quite exciting because, this year, we will make the devices cheaper and simpler to use,” Dziemidowicz says.
There is a gaming component to the software, which means that as more people adopt the technology, it will become even more realistic by involving more players. “You need this critical mass when you go online to play,” he says. “That’s the main reason we don’t have good multiplayer online races, but this will change as more devices go on the market.”
The technology also has benefits for marine service and repair. Animation can let viewers go somewhere or see something that would be difficult or impossible to access with traditional video, says Yamaha video production manager Brad Massey. “In the marketing video released for the new XTO Offshore, there is 3-D animation showing the inner workings of the engines,” Massey says. “It lets you see the inside without tearing the engines apart.”
The video, which Yamaha Motor Corp.’s headquarters in Japan produced, comes with a tradeoff. Because a lot of software used for 3-D animation is leased per seat rather than purchased, the more people who use it, the more expensive the recurring cost. “It requires people with a specialized skill set, software, as well as hardware, and you have to be able to balance the cost of outsourcing that or taking that on your own,” Massey says.
At Yamaha’s U.S. headquarters in Kennesaw, Ga., Massey and his team are learning to use 2-D animation because new programs have made learning it more accessible. For instance, they are creating an advocacy video about a fish species, even though they missed the run of actual fish. “It was going to be next spring before they came back through, and even if we’d waited, there are ocean conditions and weather conditions to consider,” Massey says. “With animation, we could show things we couldn’t normally do.”
Helping Jurors Understand Boats
Three-dimensional animation is also being applied in courtrooms. Gregory Davis, principal marine forensic consultant at Davis Marine Consulting Associates, sometimes uses it to help a jury comprehend technical issues. “The marine industry is complicated, with its own language, and juries are easily confused because they’re usually not boaters,” Davis says. “That’s where 3-D animation comes in.”
In one case, a powerboat belonging to a boat club lost power when its engine experienced a mechanical problem and caught fire, causing the boat’s bilge pump to fail. When the boat began taking on water, the four occupants abandoned it; only one survived. Davis, tapped as an expert witness in the $27.9 million lawsuit, argued that improper maintenance had caused the failure.
To make his case, jurors had to grasp that the drive had been removed, and that someone lacking the proprietary software to set the trim had aligned the system — a type of alignment that can’t be done mechanically. Jurors had to understand the transom mount, gimbal ring and bell housing.
“It’s very important to gain the confidence of the jury so that they believe what you’re telling them,” says Davis. “On complex things, you can see people glassing over. Animation is a very effective way of engaging the audience.”
His clients paid $50,000 for the animation, Davis says. In the end, and maybe even because of that, the suit never made it to trial.
This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue.