VR for electrical engineering

News Editor

Haxhi Pantina reveals how VR could help young electrical engineers to land their first job

According to numerous reports, for a many fresh graduates landing a job after university is becoming a lot more difficult. For example, the European Commission Education & Training 2020 and the report “Modernization Agenda of Higher Education” state preparing educating future employees that will meet market’s needs is one of the biggest challenges we have. But why is that so?

There are certainly a few factors playing a role in this matter. However, to a large extent it boils down to a single important issue. The fact is that the market is changing rapidly with new technologies and methodologies being applied. Unfortunately the education system is often failing to keep up with this change although most universities maintain close ties with key players in the industry. We see nowadays more and more students who must undergo specific training programs offered by future employers before being hired despite them having completed the required academic education.

This is particularly the case with young electrical engineers. Although they hold the required academic qualifications and they’ve received first-hand experience through training programs as part of their education, they still fail to live up to their expectation from electrical engineering companies. Can the technology of VR help us with this? Luckily it turns out that the answer is "yes".

What Is VR?

Before moving any further for the sake of information let us say a few words about what VR actually means. VR (short for Virtual Reality) is the computer technology developed with the intention of providing you a new “virtual” reality that feels almost “real”. In contrast to what most think, this technology is not that young. People started working on it during the last century, but for many practical reasons it never became commercial. Around 2010 VR regained its attention and could finally become available to everyone. Since then the technology has improved significantly and now a lot more companies are willing to invest

How can VR help electrical engineers?

Its first inventors would have certainly never thought that their invention is going to be more than just a device for entertainment. Neither did the people from companies who launched modern VR headsets some 10 years ago. However, VR has already unveiled a little of its huge potential.

As it is the case with many new innovative technologies, VR was first used by the US military. They used virtual reality simulations to train fighting jet pilots instead of having them steer real aeroplanes. In this way, they were able to reduce the training’s cost while offering an almost equally effective training on the ground.

As soon as this technology became available to everyone, smart people noted right away that VR headsets were more than just a fun game. In recent years, an increase in the amount of research about the application of VR in other areas is obvious. We are still at an initial stage, but we have already witnessed several prototype cases of its applicability in areas such as medicine and education. For instance, VR is helping people who have suffered leg injuries to regain their ability to walk in a shorter time than traditional therapies and with much less pain. On the other hand, VR is helping students with reduced vision and those with ADHD disorders.

Similarly, electrical engineers can benefit a lot from this amazing technology. One way VR can turn particularly beneficial is by introducing VR training programmes in universities as part of the required practical work students have to complete. These training programmes would be an intermediate point between theoretical education and real-life practical work. In that case, students would have developed more practical skills in tackling actual problems in their area of expertise. They would have the opportunity to have the impression of “being really in charge” but at the same time not facing a lot of stress completing a task because they’re still enough aware to know of their “virtual” experience. On the other, universities would be much more flexible in terms of adjusting their curriculums to meet the current market’s demands. In turn, they would gain an excellent promotion as their students would enjoy a high employment rate.  Employers would also benefit because they would be happy to welcome competent new employees so everyone in this cycle would be satisfied.

Advantages and disadvantages of using VR

Although the technology has improved hugely in recent years, VR headsets have still a way to go to be perfect. That said, there are a few advantages and disadvantages of using VR headsets to prepare young engineers for the market.

Affordable cost: The training programmes that companies have to organise for new employees cost them a lot of money. They put very expensive equipment at risk of going completely damaged. At the same time, they must provide them constant provision from many experienced employees. On the other hand, the practical work students have to complete as part of their course accounts for a financial burden to universities. Therefore, by making use of VR training programmes they would significantly reduce it.

Flexible training programmes: Technology innovations happen more often today than in the past. Consequently, universities sometimes fail to adjust their curriculums on time despite their commitment and hard work. With VR at their disposal, they would only work with a few representatives from companies in respective industries and VR experts to intervene in the software of VR headsets. This would take less time and less money.

No injuries: Electrical engineers must be extremely focused on their task otherwise they can end up injured. Although traditional training programmes do take this into consideration the risk is always present. By using VR headsets students can work stress-free because there’s no way they can get injured on a simulated environment. The greatest advantage of this is that they allow themselves to make mistakes and build on them, which is better than trying to make it everything perfect from the first time onwards.

No extra provision: A common complaint from companies is that they have to “sacrifice” some of their best employee to keep an eye on and instruct the young engineers. With VR headsets students can at the end of every task receive detailed information over what they did and have to do. Human provision is of course inevitable, but minimal.  

Minor side-effects: As already mentioned, VR headsets are not yet perfect. People do still report feelings of dizziness, headache, motion sickness etc. Some time ago, a VR company conducted a very interesting survey to reveal the effects of VR on people. It showed that around 70% of 991 participants have had any of these feelings (dizziness, headache, motion sickness). It turned out that these negative effects were particularly strong for first-time users and there was almost a linear relationship between the persistence of those feelings and the time for which they had been wearing VR headsets. Thus, in some cases VR can still be uncomfortable for practical use.
Haxhi Pantina is a MSc physics and engineering student at the University of Vienna