When Jack Sully used his Avatar to live real experiences on Pandora while his sleeping body was lying in a capsule, not many knew that 10 years down the line a similar technology would be available to everyone. 
For those who still don’t know what it is, virtual reality (VR) is a technology that allows the simulation of realistic situations in real time and the interaction with the objects and people part of it. 
Even if today it is often presented at trade fairs and conventions, especially those dedicated to video games, opportunities for application are endless.

The interest generated by VR technology within the company led us to look for possible wider applications closer to our requirements. And when we discussed it with the Training Team, we immediately discovered new opportunities. 

Antonio Scarnera, Innovation team Acea

VR was introduced at Acea thanks to the collaboration with Start Smart, a young Italian start-up. “The very first collaboration with Acea involved the development of a game to present the company and its business during Recruiting Days” says Cristiano Maci, co-founder and CTO of Start Smart. 
Recruiting Days are days dedicated to the selection of junior figures during which candidates are involved in group activities to assess their interpersonal and management skills, individual interviews and immersive experiences to come in contact with the company in the fastest and most engaging ways possible.

We are one of the first Italian companies to integrate a VR application in technical and operational training programs already in use.

Chiara Del Vecchio, Head of Training Acea Group

“In some cases, we can train our staff only on the theory, because it is not possible to realistically recreate certain situations, especially the most complex. With VR we can train staff in a reiterated and repetitive manner, to teach them how to manage every situation by simply setting up a workstation in a room”, adds Chiara.
This technology helps to organize courses, facilitates learning and makes training programs fast, engaging and effective.
This is how the VR application to train operators in confined spaces was born.

“We proposed the project to our colleagues at Acea Ato 2 and they immediately showed interest” says Antonio. “Working closely with the Start Smart team we analyzed carefully the training content and methods currently in use and worked out ways of reproducing them in virtual reality.”
The first step was writing the script: like with films or video games, we wrote a story that included all the standard operations and procedures that an operator must follow in confined spaces. 
“We also added complex situations, designed to test the operator’s skills” continues Cristiano.
The next stage was about graphics and visually recreating places down to the smallest details. The last stage was the coding to create the software at the basis of the application.

The VR training program was launched at the beginning of December 2019. In the classroom, Acea Ato 2 operators put on the Oculus Rift S goggles connected to a PC running the software and by immersing themselves in virtual reality they entered the virtual sewage system to practice how to carry out different procedures simulating different levels of complexity.

This experience can be performed in two ways: guided mode, in which operations are carried out following a predefined order and method, and free mode, in which operations can be carried out autonomously and at the end the operator receives a performance report.

Virtual reality training at Acea

2
months to develop the pilot
20
minutes (on average) per session
2
training modes

The application was developed in approximately 2 months, which were followed by a longer period dedicated to testing and reworking to create a customized product based on the company’s training requirements. A process which also involved the Trade Masters, who contributed to perfecting the application with their suggestions.

The first session was received with great enthusiasm. All participants rated the experience positively and agreed that VR helps learn more easily and memorize better the correct procedure.
After the pilot, at Acea we are already working on finding other applications for this type of training.