Virtual Reality for Transportation Safety

Transportation safety is one of the industries that can be greatly impacted by virtual reality training because of the high degree of required situational awareness that is necessary to stay safe whether traveling down our nation’s highways or on a jobsite. In this video 360 immersive discusses the technological advances that virtual reality offers to transportation safety and how the technology can help save lives and reduce injuries.

David Cleverdon: Hi, this is David and Ax from 360 Immersive. Today we’re going to talk about transportation safety, and specifically, we’re talking about motorcycle safety pertaining to virtual reality training. Ax, tell me a little bit about the whole industry. I know that we have approximately 10 million riders in the United States. How do those people stay safe?

Ax Axmaker: Well, in the motorcycle world, a lot like the driving world, there’s driver’s ed or motorcycle training we call it. And I would say the majority of new riders will take a motorcycle riding class which helps them get their license. They get endorsed and then they ride off into the sunset. And unfortunately, from what we can tell, most riders don’t come back for any refresher training – somewhat how car drivers generally don’t come back for any refresher training.

David Cleverdon: So, statistically, and it’s an unfortunate fact, but fatalities and injuries are actually on the rise.

Ax Axmaker: They do seem to be trending up and where that really stands out is when we look at it in the overall transportation safety mix; car safety seems to be getting better. And that’s primarily due to technological advances in the design of the car itself. Most of those technological advances aren’t available on motorcycles and we are seeing the numbers not only not go down, but they do seem to be trending up – the fatalities, crashes, and injuries.

David Cleverdon: So, we know that virtual reality – or what most people call VR – is a brand new technology. And it especially works well for situationally aware circumstances – just like you would experience riding a motorcycle. You have to have your head on a swivel. You’re always looking around if you’re going to remain safe. Can you tell us a little bit about how this technology is going to make an impact when it comes to rider safety?

Ax Axmaker: Sure. One of the challenges in rider training – and I’ve been doing rider training for 26 years now – is we tend to focus on riding skills. We’re in a parking lot and we’re focusing on riding skills of using the clutch and throttle and breaking and shifting and turning and swerving and all that. And it’s good. I mean we need those physical skills.

Out on the streets, one of the big challenges is the situation you’re in like you were saying. Traffic – where are the cars? Where are the potholes? What’s going on up ahead? What’s going on behind me? What’s going on in my blind spot? And those are things that are much harder to train in a learn-to-ride program. We talk about them in the classroom and there are a few on-street training courses, but again, we get to that challenge of most riders don’t come back for advanced training like the on-street training.

VR – the virtual reality experiences – allow a rider to be on the street – you know – they put on their virtual reality goggles – they can be on the street and look around in a safe environment. And you can pause the action and say, all right, David, so you’re doing fine but take a look in your blind spot. And you look and you go, oh, there’s a car there. I didn’t even realize it. Right – so, there’s a lesson on checking your blind spot and you can start the action again.

So, it allows practice in identifying hazards and, you know, being situationally aware without the risk of crashing because you’re indoors with a headset on. So, there’s great potential there for that kind of practice.

David Cleverdon: So, isn’t it also a factor of just pure convenience? When you’re talking about virtual reality or VR, I can literally just take a phone and an inexpensive set of goggles and suddenly I have a training tool that – and maybe I use it as a precursor to some live training out in the field or certainly as a post-reference where, you know, maybe I’m just not feeling as comfortable or I want to kind of reconnect to that training that I’ve already learned. And since it’s all app-based, it’s easy to use.

Ax Axmaker: And that is one of the recent developments in this industry. I mean we’ve had simulators for years – you know – flight simulators.

David Cleverdon: Medical.

Ax Axmaker: They’re tremendously expensive.

David Cleverdon: Yeah.

Ax Axmaker: And big – you know? You have to have a place to put it and, yeah, it could pre training. It could be during training, right? Okay. We’ve just talked about situational awareness. Everybody pull out your goggles and we’re going to get a little practice. You could insert it into training and you could do post-training follow-ups.

You touched on something else that I think is really one of the special benefits of VR. You said they just don’t know on how it feels or the feeling of that maneuver.

One of the things that you don’t get on standard video that you do get in VR is that physical – that feeling – that visceral experience. So, if you’re in VR and the motorcycle goes into a lean, you feel it. I mean you see the horizon moving.

David Cleverdon: You experience it.

Ax Axmaker: Your brain is experiencing the lean and the movement whether it’s breaking or swerving or cornering. And so, it’s not just watching a video. It’s immersive. It’s an experience and that’s one of the great benefits of virtual reality because, on a motorcycle, things feel different than they do in a car –

David Cleverdon: That’s right.

Ax Axmaker: – whether it’s the counter-steering to turn or it’s leaning the motorcycle. A lot of us riders have taken a passenger at one point who’d say, okay, Ax, I’m ready to go, but don’t make it lean, okay? That freaks me out. And if you’re a rider, you know that you can’t ride the motorcycle without leaning. And so, this allows somebody to experience the lean – experience weight shift – experience, you know, how the handlebars move – again, in that safe environment – physically learning the skill – not just visually or intellectually.

David Cleverdon: Well, and isn’t it true that the more you practice – just like an athlete will – they’ll build up muscle memory – you know – we’re all familiar with muscle memory. But if you think of mental muscle memory – the ability to experience that can actually create a circumstance where you feel like you’re doing a specific task or procedure rather than – you know – let’s face it – watching a is just a passive experience. I’m just literally just kind of watching it, but if I can build up that muscle memory – that mental muscle memory – and I can ride safer or I can understand a circumstance so that I may not be a statistic – that’s a better deal and virtual reality offers that.

Ax Axmaker: Yeah. For a long time, we’ve known – athletes especially – visualization.

David Cleverdon: Sure.

Ax Axmaker: The more they can vividly – and in detail – visualize an experience to the brain, that’s real experience. And where that can really pay off is now in what I call the moment of truth – right – things are going  on your motorcycle and a crash might be imminent. Very often, a rider’s initial response is, oh, my God! And there’s panic and we lose time.

David Cleverdon: Right.

Ax Axmaker: And maybe we react too late or maybe we don’t react at all. What this experience – the way you described it – this detailed, visualized, immersive experience gives your brain,  and so now, in that moment of truth, instead of the panic response, somewhere in your brain it says, hey, I’ve been here before. I’ve got this. I know what to do. I know how this works. I know how this goes. And so, we can skip over that delay.

The potential for reacting appropriately and timely in those moments of truth is tremendous because practicing those experiences in the real world has a very high consequence for failure. And we don’t want to put, you know, riders in that situation for learning. Here we can safely put them in that situation for learning.

David Cleverdon: So, you’re the founder of Be Crash Free –

Ax Axmaker: Yes.

David Cleverdon: – which is an initiative that is, from the onset, really focusing on motorcycle safety and helping people and riders ride safer. You know, if you think about every one of these disciplines that we all go through – you know – we all drive a car and a lot of us ride a bike and some of us do other things – maybe drive heavy equipment, maybe drive recreational vehicles – they’re all situationally aware. We can all learn something from VR in a training circumstance. And can you tell us a little bit about the Be Crash Free initiative today, which is focusing on motorcycle training, but maybe beyond that, in all of these other industries that we can help with?

Ax Axmaker: Sure. Now, I’ve been in the motorcycle safety world – like I said before – for 26 years doing rider training, working with instructors, working with riders, and I’ve been looking for what else we can do because they take the training, they get their license, and then what?

So, Be Crash Free was built on the idea to inspire and empower people to make choices and take actions to prevent and survive crashes because, out there in the real world whether you’re driving a forklift or riding a bicycle or on your motorcycle, in that moment of truth, it’s just you. It’s just you and the situation. You’re not going to pull out a book and look up something you learned five years ago. You have to respond in the moment.

And in all transportation safety, when there’s that emergency, you have to respond in the moment. And so, you know, there’s licensing and there’s equipment and there’s gear – and that’s all good – but we want that operator – that individual – that person – who has a family and loved ones and, you know, they have their own life – we want them to be successful in that moment because in the transportation world, the consequences can be bad.

David Cleverdon: Sure.

Ax Axmaker: And if we can save some of those bad consequences and turn those into good outcomes because the person was able to respond appropriately in that moment quickly, that’s a win for everybody. It’s a win for that person. It’s a win for the company they work for. It’s a win for their –

David Cleverdon: Their family.

Ax Axmaker: – family. And this is how Be Crash Free got created – because every rider is not just a number on a page from a statistical analysis. It’s a person. It’s a person with a family and loved ones. And when something happens to that person, something happens to all those other people.

David Cleverdon: Right. So, moving – I mean if you think of Be Crash Free – that fits not only for motorcycles but literally almost anything that you could think of from a transportation safety realm. And I’d like to commend you for coming up with such a – really such a cool concept – and then branding it with something that people can relate to. Everybody can relate to the fact that, if they’re riding a motorcycle or riding a bicycle or on an RV, I don’t want to crash. I don’t want to be injured and it’s a commitment. Commit to additional training so that you’ll be safe.

Ax Axmaker: Absolutely. And that commitment to ongoing learning – whether it’s training or I have an app and I’m going to do it on my own – or I have a book—continual learning is what’s going to help you there and making those commitments to yourself. In fact, we called it The Pledge in Be Crash Free. It’s about an individual rider making decisions for their own riding because that’s what it comes down to.

You know – not what the DMV regulations are and not what the equipment standards are – but what are you choosing to do? What are you deciding to do? And this gives a tremendous opportunity for that – not only making the pledge to yourself – but finding technology that can help us get there. I think the future holds great promise for this approach, this philosophy, and this technology.

David Cleverdon: And that’s where VR really comes into play is the fact that it is that kind of secret sauce that’s making that commitment even more impactful, and frankly, easier to use because you’re in the moment. You feel and you see everything about you that normally you’d have to go out on a track with an instructor.

Ax Axmaker: Mm-hmm. And mistakes in VR don’t cost you anything.

David Cleverdon: That’s right.

Ax Axmaker: I remember one of my mentors – oh, goodness, maybe 25 years ago – was giving a talk to a bunch of us instructors and he said remember when you were a kid riding your bicycle? And we’re all like, yeah, I remember that. Did you ever crash? And we’re all, oh, yeah, I had to crash. And then he said did you plan to crash that day? And a lightbulb went off in my head like, well, no, nobody plans to crash.

In any of these transportation safety scenarios, nobody wakes up and says you know what? I think today is going to be a crash day. Therefore I’m going to be extra careful. We don’t. I mean, as riders, we don’t. As drivers, we don’t. As bicycle riders, we don’t. Nobody plans to crash, and yet, we know crashes happen. So, if we can be more prepared and be more preventative and be more ready to react, we can prevent those. And a prevented crash is the only kind of crash you want to have – one that didn’t happen.

David Cleverdon: That’s right. Well, we’d like to thank you for joining us today for the conversation on transportation safety – specifically talking about Be Cash Free and motorcycle training using virtual reality. Join us again for other types of these conversations and, Ax, thank you.

Ax Axmaker: Thank you. It has been my pleasure.

David Cleverdon: And thank you.

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