New Zealand’s largest biosecurity training provider is exploring virtual reality technology to improve training and assessment capabilities.

ECO FRIENDLY Reuben Turner inspects the biosecurity training providers new virtual shipping container
ECO FRIENDLY: Reuben Turner inspects the biosecurity training provider’s new virtual shipping container.

A pioneering virtual reality shipping container packed with simulated biosecurity risk scenarios is helping preserve New Zealand’s ecosystem and way of living.

Independent Verification Services (IVS) in Hamilton has launched a new virtual reality simulation built by Hamilton software specialist Company-X, that the Ministry of Primary Industries has approved to be used in biosecurity refresher training for Accredited Persons (APs).

The project was led by Company-X augmented and virtual reality specialist Lance Bauerfeind, with project manager Dilan Prasad and augmented and virtual reality generalist Wonkee Kim.

Using virtual reality to assess frontline staff dealing with imported goods is a New Zealand first, said IVS chief executive Peter Webb.

“It’s the first training course that is not undertaken in a classroom, using a written examination-style assessment. Instead, it offers an online course with a virtual reality assessment that lets trainees demonstrate their practical knowledge and skills.”

The technology provides trainees with a realistic environment to properly assess their abilities to detect and respond to biosecurity threats such as foreign insects and vegetation.

A wireless virtual reality headset allows the AP to walk around the simulated container externally and internally, in the same way that they would in the real world, through the use of scenarios.

“The virtual reality tool is the closest and more realistic assessment of skills. It replicates real-life situations that may be encountered on the job,” Webb said.

“We randomise all the different things that can happen, like poisonous spiders,” Bauerfeind said. “We can track head movements so we know where they are looking.”

“We chose to work with the team at Company X due to their experience and capability. The fact that they are based here in the Waikato, was also a bonus,” Webb said.

“Lance, Dilan and Wonkee are passionate, dedicated and great at project planning, always delivering on time. It was awesome to bounce ideas with the team, get suggestions for improvement. This is one of the only (if not the first) use of VR for assessment and we are very proud to be offering this exclusively, enabling trainees to demonstrate their practical skills for the job rather than their memory.”

The project, Webb said, was the first step in what could be a transformational journey for the biosecurity industry in New Zealand, using virtual reality to train staff dealing with biosecurity contamination immediately post-border in the most realistic way.

“This technology has the potential to be used to educate all New Zealanders to identify and respond to biosecurity risks,” he said.

“IVS believes virtual reality could be instrumental to achieving a biosecurity team of 4.7 million, where all New Zealanders are aware of the importance of biosecurity and involved in pest and disease management, as set out in the Government’s Biosecurity 2025 strategy.