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Virtual Reality Training Puts Gas Techs in 3D World

Unitil plans to use interactive instruction to prepare workers for real-life emergencies
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Allen in VR gas training setting
Hampton, NH

Unitil Corporation, (Unitil.com), a provider of natural gas and electricity to customers in New England, is entering the immersive 3D world of virtual reality training to better prepare workers responding to emergency gas leaks and other real-life situations.

In an effort to supplement field training for utility gas employees, the company is launching a comprehensive VR training program that will allow them to experience a host of virtual scenarios ranging from a potentially dangerous leak to patrolling transmission pipeline to ensure its safety.

Wearing VR goggles and using a pair of handheld controllers to manipulate digital objects, trainees are instantly transported into a virtual neighborhood or elsewhere in the field to handle realistic simulated calls and other tasks.

Unitil was first introduced to the interactive VR training provided by GTI Energy through a pilot program in 2020. More than two dozen gas technicians participated in the training.

“The feedback from the pilot program was extremely positive and we quickly learned that VR training will offer many benefits. While we’ll continue critical training in the field, this will be an additional tool that will give our workers real-world experiences similar to the ones they encounter on the job,” said Alec O’Meara, Unitil’s media relations manager.

Following the successful pilot program, Unitil acquired the VR equipment to provide the training on a regular basis. Since then, Robert Allen, Unitil’s supervisor of technical training and quality management, has worked closely on integration training with GTI Energy, a leading research and training organization based in Des Plaines, Ill.

One of the advantages to VR training is that, unlike field training, it doesn’t cause public distractions.

“The modules put them in a controlled environment where they go through dangerous scenarios like third-party damage or a gas leak situation. They’re able to go into those virtual worlds and go through all the procedures and steps that the company has us do, but they’re not bothering the public,” Allen said. “Repetition of these training modules creates that muscle memory so that when they get that actual emergency call they’re right there and they know to do the right thing.”

The training program has multi-user functionality. While equipment is installed at Unitil’s operations facility in Exeter, N.H., the company plans to add wireless connections at its facilities in Portland, Maine, and Lunenburg, Mass., to allow for multiple users to train at the same time.

The various training modules include natural gas leak emergency response, investigation of possible gas leaks inside and outside dwellings and buildings, indoor gas meter and appliance inspections, locating and mark out of natural gas facilities, pipeline patrolling, and standby activities such as watching contractors dig around facilities to ensure procedures are followed, and gas pipeline hot tapping tasks.

Allen said modules for backhoe training and obtaining a commercial driver’s license are also possible in the future.

“The sky’s the limit with this. Just in the year’s time that we’ve been doing this integration training, the modules have become more detailed. They’re able to fine tune procedures much easier now. It just keeps evolving,” Allen said.

Cutlines for photos:

Teaser image: Unitil's new virtual reality training program allows workers to experience a variety of real-life scenarios, including an emergency gas leak.

Image (above): Robert Allen, Unitil’s supervisor of technical training and quality management, demonstrates the company's new virtual reality training program, which will supplement field training for gas workers.

 

About Unitil

Unitil Corporation provides energy for life by safely and reliably delivering natural gas and electricity in New England. We are committed to the communities we serve and to developing people, business practices, and technologies that lead to the delivery of dependable, more efficient energy. Unitil Corporation is a public utility holding company with operations in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Together, Unitil's operating utilities serve approximately 107,100 electric customers and 85,600 natural gas customers.

 

Media Contact

Alec O'Meara
Media Relations Manager