Virtual Reality Motorcycle Safety Training

Be Crash Free is a Nationally Recognized Motorcycle Safety & Training Organization.   David Cleverdon and Ax Axmaker Discuss VR Safety Training and How it Can Make an Impact on Motorcycle Safety

David: Welcome. I’m David from 360 Immersive and today we have the pleasure of having Ax from Be Crash Free. Now Ax is one of the premier motorcycle trainers, past director of the Star Program here in Idaho and he understands motorcycle training. But today we not only want to talk about training when it comes to motorcycles, we want to talk about some new technology that’s coming on the scene. So Ax, give us a little bit of your background about what you do and why you started, for instance, Be Crash Free which is kind of a revolutionary new platform that riders all over the United States can reach out and share ideas on how to stay safe on the road.

Ax: Thanks, David. I’ve been in the motorcycle safety and rider training business for over 25 years. And love what I do, believe it’s important work. And one of the things I found is people come and take a class and generally that’s the last we see of them. Then our influence on them is just whatever we got across for them in that class. So you were asking why I created Be Crash Free, it’s a web-based voluntary membership program for riders and it’s based on a personal pledge to one’s self about making choices ahead of time to ride legal, to ride protected, to ride sober, to ride informed, and to ride skilled.

And every month I push out a riding tip, usually a video to our members as well as a reminder of the pledge they’ve made to themselves. So it’s a way to stay in contact over time and help people stay on the path that they really do believe they want to be on both for themselves and for their loved ones.

David: So there’s approximately 10 million motorcycle riders in just the United States alone. And every time they go out, there’s a certain amount of risk just based on they’re out there exposed. They have to be continually aware of what’s going on and that’s where training comes in.

Ax: Right. There’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 27 to 30 times more likely to be in a fatal crash than if you’re in a car or a passenger truck. And that’s an incredible – it’s hard to get your mind wrapped around 30 times more dangerous. And so yeah, training comes in, not only the physical skills which are really important; making the machine do what you want it to do, making it go where you need it to go; but also the mental skills. Like you were saying, be aware. The sooner we can identify the challenges in front of us down the road, the much easier it is to respond to them. And so that’s a lot of what we do, is the physical skill training, but also the mental skill training.

David: So as long as I’ve known you, you’ve tended to be on the kind of technological forefront. That’s something that you embrace. And you bring it into your particular chosen field. Let’s talk about something that’s brand new that you’re introducing.

Ax: Sure. We are developing some virtual reality, a [inaudible] [00:03:08] video, motorcycle riding scenario so that we can use this technology for learners to get some of those challenging concepts. Anybody out there who’s in the rider training business knows that some of the more challenging concepts involve counter steering, how to get the bike to lean. Swerving, cornering, and that’s where most of our crashes on the street take place, the most common single vehicle crash scenario. And then again, identifying hazards. We can do that in a virtual reality, in a VR environment where the learner can not only see and hear like they would on a regular video, but they can really feel it and look around and see what changes when they look around.

They can practice putting their eyes up and down to the ride to down at their bike and get a visceral experience that’s very low risk. Even though training at a parking lot is lower risk than taking them right out onto the street, it still has some physical risk. And it a lot of these maneuvers, it’s actually doing it. Once you get the student to do it, then they can feel the response. And sometimes that’s challenging to get them over that hump. This technology, the 360 and the virtual reality experience allows us to get the student that visceral experience while we’re still in the classroom.

David: So if you think about it, I can actually look around just by the use of – well, I understand these are about $35 and a mobile phone just goes in the front of it. Driven by a mobile, it happened suddenly, I can be on the bike. I feel like I’m on the bike. I can look down and I can see how I’m counter steering, how I should be counter steering. How I should be doing all of the things that you should look around – in fact, I may hear something over here and I’m suddenly aware of that circumstance just like in real life. So it’s almost as if we’re mimicking real life, but then I can practice over and over and over again without risk endangering myself or the motorcycle.

Ax: And you bring up that example of doing it over and over again. I was doing some of the footage that we took recently and I played it multiple times for myself so I could see it. And I practiced going through one of the left-hand curves, looking down at the ground in front of the motorcycle and then I practiced that same curve turning my head with the goggles on and I can really see up the road. The physical response, the physical experience is different. And with the head and eyes turned which is what we coach students all the time in training at all levels, it’s much more comfortable. There’s a certain anxiety to not seeing where you’re going.

You can feel your body tense up even though you’re sitting in a chair with some goggles on versus practicing the head and eye placement and the body relaxes. And getting somebody to experience that difference in a safe environment makes the on cycle portion of training go so much more smoothly.

David: So let’s talk for a moment about retention. The ability a student goes through one of these classes, a traditional class and they walk away with a certain amount of learning. But it’s not the whole curriculum because people generally don’t retain – sometimes maybe as low as only 15 or 20%. But if I could be in a scenario where I think I’m actually on the bike that maximizes the potential for retention. And if we’re retaining more information, we’re safer, right?

Ax: Absolutely. The information if you don’t remember it or don’t retain it, it doesn’t really do you any good. And that traffic scenarios aren’t something we can do out in the parking lot. We can’t bring cars and trucks into the parking lot and say, “Okay, now maneuver around all those vehicles.” But we can do that in a VR environment and let them experience what it’s really like to look for hazards, to change lane position, to change speed and deal with those hazards. And like you were getting at the retention is much higher than just for example looking at a picture and say, “Okay, David. What would you do if you’re riding in this scenario?”

David: Right. So VR and virtual reality sounds a little bit like science fiction and yet, we see in the news, we see it on all the blog posts. Everywhere we look we see VR and that to me it seems like it’s going to be a big thing. Tell me about your first experience when you first put on a set of VR goggles. What did it feel like?

Ax: Well, I’ll share with you my son’s experience first and then I’ll tell you mine. So my son is 7 years old and of course, when Daddy’s got these cool goggles on he’s like, “Oh, I want to see Daddy.” So I pulled up some footage of a 360 motorcycle ride, put the goggles on him. The first thing he said was, “Woah, Daddy. It feels like I’m on the motorcycle.” And that was exactly my experience as well. As soon as I put the goggles on, I started looking around. Okay, I can check my blind spot. I can look all the way behind me. I can look up the road, I can look down at the bike, I can look at my foot. All that’s in the environment which is completely different than watching a video.

David: Watching a video or even a still photo or a Power Point presentation, those are kind of just passive. You’re just sitting there watching. My experience is that VR gives you a connected experience. You’re actually in the middle of the training curriculum, and for situational based training. Now certainly if I’m gonna show you perhaps how to put a phone in this goggle, I mean VR managing may not work well for that. But if I’m talking about a hazardous situation that I want to have people understand that they can look around and had to look around or how to do a specific set of circumstances that interacts with my environment, VR is perfect for that.

Ax: Yeah, we can put up some cones in the parking lot and have you avoid the hazard of the cones and that’s good, teaching physical skills, but we can also put you in a VR environment and show you what it’s like when traffic in front of you suddenly stops and you need to swerve around that obstacle. It’s the same maneuver but it’s a different experience for the learner.

David: So if you think about it before somebody might come to one of your training courses, they could actually go through that process to get a feel from a hands-on standpoint, just by their mobile phone a set of these goggles. Or maybe six months after – you mentioned that people will go through a course and then that’s it. They’re out riding and they never do any post refresher training. This app could be used from a refresher standpoint to kind of give them a feeling. Are they really doing what they should be doing? Or maybe they’ve gotten into some bad habits.

Ax: Mm-hmm. Or even start the process of next level training. We do get some riders that come back for additional training, but it’s a small percentage. And it’s an opportunity to entice them. Let’s say they took the class, they’ve been licensed in riding for six months or a year, and through an app on their goggles or even on their phone, we give them a taste of what the next level of skill development can look like. And they go, “Wow. That was really cool. Where do I do that?” And we may be able to bring more of them back into training that way as well.

David: So it’s a new technology but really it’s important because if we think about the amount of injuries that happen every year when it comes to motorcycle riding if we could reduce that or even reduce it to zero. That’s what everybody hopes for. We’d make some real gains in the technology and VR can help.

Ax: Absolutely. And it’s been used in some of the high-risk industries. Aviation’s been using VR technology for a long time because mistakes in an airplane can be really expensive. It’s not that different on a motorcycle. Mistakes that we make can also be very expensive.

David: Well, if you think about the military also and the differences because both the military, aviation, medical; we’ve trained surgeons for a long time using virtual reality; is that the system cost. The ability to have the hardware to train has been hugely expensive. But now for well, frankly for very little, everybody can have a training tool. In fact, anybody with a reasonably current phone in their pocket, they don’t even have to have a set of goggles. They can hold that phone out like this and get a reasonably immersive feeling for the technology.

Ax: Absolutely.

David: Well Ax, thank you for coming in today.

Ax: It’s been my pleasure.

David: I appreciate you talking about not only virtual reality and but how you’re applying that to your industry because you’re on the forefront of some very very cool stuff. So thank you again and we look forward to seeing you next time.

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