Move over gaming, the hottest new app for virtual reality is heavy equipment training. Virtual reality allows operators to practise potentially dangerous tasks, like unloading a beam from a crane, in the safety of a classroom.

"VR training puts operators in complex and risky situations so they can develop necessary operating skills without the risk of physical harm," explains Jim Colvin, CEO of Serious Labs, an Alberta company. The virtual reality solutions developed by Serious Labs are transforming conventional equipment training and enhancing worker safety.

Alberta Innovates has supported Serious Labs through its Industry Associates (now closed) and Product Demonstration programs. The funding has helped the company forge strong partnerships with key industry players such as United Rentals, the world's largest equipment rental company with over 1,000 locations in North America.

In November 2018, Serious Labs and United Rentals launched the first United Academy Training Centre of the Future in Sherwood Park, Alberta. This facility - an entirely new concept in the equipment rental industry - expands United Rentals' training options by incorporating virtual reality simulations from Serious Labs.

United Rentals is set to open another training centre in New Jersey followed by one in Texas, both of which will feature the Serious Labs virtual reality simulations. The plan is to eventually offer this capability at all United Rentals locations.

The heavy equipment industry is embracing the new training technology, says Wade Carson, Serious Labs' Director of Marketing. "We're fielding inquiries monthly from very big players asking us to create training modules for them." Since 2017, Serious Labs has doubled its staff to 60 and the company anticipates adding another 30 employees over the next 18 months.

The focus is now on expanding product offerings in virtual reality training experiences. Later this year, Serious Labs will launch simulators for training forklift operators. A heavy crawler simulation is under development in collaboration with Industrial Training International, a world leader in training services for cranes, rigging and load handling equipment.

"The goal of our operator training is to provide a safe environment to learn and make mistakes," adds Colvin. "But once those operators get on the job site, the goal is that they go home in the same shape as when they arrived. VR training helps achieve that."