From a “weekend and beers project” to a partnership with the Defence Force, a Lower Hutt-based virtual reality (VR) company is now taking its technology overseas.
Eight360 sent demonstration units of its NOVA VR motion simulator to Australia and the United States in June, marking a significant step in its ambition to break into the multi-billion dollar military training market.
“Technology has got to the point where simulation training has become a viable replacement for the real world,” says founder Terry Miller. “Using your half-a-million-dollar truck or multi-million dollar aircraft costs more, is dangerous, and causes wear and tear on those vehicles.”
Miller says the NOVA is unique in the simulator world. A driver or pilot climbs into a polycarbonate, aluminium-framed sphere which sits supported but untethered on a cradle. The ball is able to move in all directions, simulating bumps, turns and spins. It can achieve a greater range of motion than tethered units which often rely on hydraulic arms, Miller said.
The “spinning ball of death” as Miller calls it, is also transportable, able to fit in a container or on the back of a truck.
Miller says Eight360’s target market is defence. The simulator can be adapted for training in anything from trucks and tanks to helicopters and jets. It also had applications in industries such as mining and gaming.
Last year the army began using one of Eight360’s NOVA units for heavy vehicle driver training on its CAT 938K loaders and MHOV trucks.
Joint Defence Services emerging technologies director Mark Baddeley said that aside from avoiding costs associated with wear and tear and fuel, the simulators could also be used during times of constrained activity such as that experienced during the Covid-19 response.
“This does not mean that there would necessarily be less hours on the physical driving but an increase in experience.”
The army was using the NOVA to simulate amphibious landings – a logistically difficult manoeuvre.
“This can be practised in different sea states yet in a safe environment,” Baddeley said.
Elsewhere in the Defence Force, other VR systems were being used for helicopter crew training, and to simulate engineering spaces on ships, he said.
Miller said working with the army had been great learning experience.
It was also a shot in the arm for the company’s confidence and credibility.
“Being a small start-up, the backing from a professional, national organisation like the Defence Force makes us more serious. Through them, we also get exposure to other organisations they work with.”