VR developer Ruben Sikkerman keeps adding new dimensions to his work

June 22, 2021

Sometimes all it takes for an innovation to be sparked into development is looking into a new direction. But one of the latest innovations in Ampelmann’s training programme sprouted from a different reality, virtual reality.

Ruben Sikkerman, VR Developer at Ampelmann, initiated the development of VR operator trainings back in 2017, and he and his team have since developed tools that provide a realistic training environment. Tools that have proven to be of great value to the company’s operator training programme.

The VR tools provide a complete immersion into a different reality, which, in turn, provides valuable experiences. Ruben seeks out similar experiences in his personal life. He is in his element playing video games, crafting a Mandalorian costume for fantasy fairs, and also like to immerse himself in the world below the surfaces by scuba diving or swimming. Now as Lead VR Developer, he is creating immersive environments for a living.

Ruben started at Ampelmann eight years ago as a draftsman and has since had an interesting professional development. With every step he took, he quite literally added new dimensions to his work. His responsibility for technical drawings was replaced with the responsibility for 3D renders, and later also animations. With his focus currently on VR, he is now creating immersive environments.

Looking in new directions

Inspired by advancements in VR technology, Ruben wondered if and how this technology could be an asset to the Ampelmann. To figure this out, he set up a VR experience at the office and invited co-workers to give it a try. A lot of them had a fun time at the office that day. One of Ampelmann’s operator trainers suggested that a VR environment could be of great value to the company’s operator training programme.

Digital training simulations were already in use, but VR training tools provide numerous advantages over the less immersive digital experience. In VR, the simulation puts the trainee in a more realistic version of their workspace. In addition, the trainees don’t have to learn unintuitive controls that deal with walking and looking around in the regular simulations on screen. In VR, these controls are more natural and easier to pick up.

Ruben’s team works on making the training environment as realistic as possible. “We have made a replica of an Ampelmann system control panel and with it, trainees can practice with physical buttons while in our VR training environment,” he says. “This way they can get familiar with the actual controls.”

Virtual reality, a valuable resource

Operator training is an important part of the company’s business, as certified operators work together with the gangway systems to enable safe and efficient transfers. Therefore, good operator training programmes are of great value to the company.

VR training simulations present trainees with a safe introduction to operating the systems. As a result, they can experience different situations and learn to operate the different systems without any risks. Meanwhile, it makes valuable training time available without the need for expensive and time-consuming offshore operations. In due time, trainees will train offshore, and by then they will be well prepared, so their time spent offshore is even more effective.

During the VR simulation, trainees are put in different training scenarios. These scenarios can easily be repeated and are carefully scripted to be a good learning experience. In developing those scenarios, Ruben soon found himself confronted with a new kind of challenge.

Multiple directions lead to new possibilities

“Sometimes it feels like writing a story,” he says. Because the trainees are free to interact with the system, Ruben must make sure that all their interactions lead somewhere. In a sense, every training session is a short story. “We have to write every possible version of that story since the trainee decides what direction the story will go in.”

The story of VR development has multiple branches itself. To make sure the VR tools Ampelmann develops continue to provide value, Ruben and his colleagues carefully consider the mechanics they implement and develop. While still unknown, the next innovation is right around the corner. More innovations are bound to come, and Ruben is already looking ahead: “Opening the doors to the next project and diving into something new is what really gives me energy.”

The development of Ampelmann’s VR tools has already led to the next innovation. Closely related to VR is augmented reality (AR). AR can provide visuals on top of reality and with it, colleagues can efficiently instruct each other by projecting useful information within the transparent goggles of their co-worker.

AR has already been through its first test case at Ampelmann’s Operations Control Centre (OCC). The OCC assists clients during their offshore operations and ensures the highest workability. In case there is an issue, OCC engineers can assist even more accurately by instructing operators with the help of AR goggles, guiding them step by step through a procedure that fixes the problem at hand. The first onshore tests have already taken place and were a great success.

One innovation leads to the next and every new technological advancement provides inspiration and new opportunities. Taking a close look at the technology at hand and putting it in new environments will lead to new tools that can be used to improve the processes of the company. And Ruben is surely looking forward to the next development project to dive in.