Based on an interview with Sam Ryan, Co-Founder & CEO of Dutch start-up Parable
VR: A safe learning environment
Virtual Reality technology has made leaps in the past decade, emerging from niche novelty to a significant force in the entertainment market. At least, that is what the first association is for the immersive technology. However, other industry-related use-cases were quickly discovered, such as safety, maintenance, and operational related training.
In addition to providing a risk-free hands-on learning environment, VR also offers the possibility of collecting behavioural and decision-making data from the headset and hand controllers. This is done by recording where people are looking and what are they doing in VR, which opens up new avenues for employee improvement.
Parable is a 4-man company focused on creating VR training software for companies in the field of industrial maintenance. Based in Utrecht, The Netherlands, the technology start-up was selected for the PortXL Rotterdam acceleration program in 2017.
Parable’s software is moulded to be similar to e-learning modules, allowing users to learn at their own pace. They have built a variety of solutions for different companies, mostly in technical and heavy industry sector.
The company is currently in a transition phase, started in late 2019, from being mostly project based to product based. Their initial business model left them well positioned to create custom training applications for clients who shared unique use cases, as well as, the interest to explore an innovative approach to training using VR technology. However, these unique cases, combined with exclusivity agreements, made it difficult to scale projects into products.
A short view back to the past
The year is 2017 and Parable is one of ten young companies selected for the PortXL acceleration program. The program saw them conduct a pilot with Port of Rotterdam, which ended up taking a longer amount of time than predicted with a low budget.
At the time Parable was an early stage start-up and rapidly discovered the sheer size of VR use cases present in the port ecosystem. However, many use cases simply are not worth the time and resources because creating VR content is a time-consuming activity. This was a reality check and a realisation that niche markets were a much better place to start.
The decision to transition to niche markets helped to move the company along and further develop the technology and significantly lower the price point of projects.
After working on various custom projects for large companies, Parable is currently working on a collaborative project together with Rotterdam-based e-learning company Deftiq with the ambition to be the first to combine e-learning modules into a VR headset for a seamless knowledge and skills training experience.
This way there’s no need to switch between e-learning on a laptop and the VR headset. Advancements in VR headset technology (Wi-Fi integration mainly) is now making this possible and opens up new doors for improved user-experience and learning styles.
The collaboration is going really well thanks to good teamwork and close participation from industry partners Doornbos, EID and Mourik who have been central to testing early prototypes.
From the commercial side, most companies have adopted e-learning as part of their approach to training. Meanwhile, VR is still seen as very new, which makes selling and organisation-wide implementation difficult. This collaboration offers a unique opportunity to combine the familiar with the new in one solution to make it more approachable for companies.
Parable’s commercial focus is for the industrial cleaning sector within the Port of Rotterdam where contractors operate high-pressure systems to clean vessels, liquid storage units or equipment using a variety of cleaning methodologies. Working with high-pressure is very dangerous, which makes it a great use case for VR training. The aim is to launch these training modules by the end of 2020 to early customers.
Covid-19 and its potential ramifications
On one hand, it is a big opportunity for VR training, but on the other, budgets are tight, and the majority of companies have put their focus on operations only to stay in business.
Covid has impacted nearly every company from a learning and development perspective. It is pushing companies to place more emphasis on remote learning but for skills training this is very difficult because it usually necessitates that people meet up to train on equipment alongside an instructor.
Companies are changing out of necessity for employee safety, but our thinking is that these investments in distance learning will not regress once Covid resides. Companies will see the cost-savings and in turn be more open-minded about new solutions along this same line of thinking.
In Sam Ryan’s own words: “Our plan is to launch our first version of industrial cleaning applications by the end of the year to early customers. From there we will be branching out to develop e-learning and VR solutions for other industrial contractor markets starting during early 2021.”
Scaling plans are to create training modules as part of current project and sell them. Busy times ahead for the four-man show at Parable, which you can reach out to via their contact page.