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March 3-7, 2026

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The Benefits of AR, VR for Heavy Equipment Operator Training



Construction Equipment Training SimulatorTechnology is revolutionizing how people learn and how teachers teach. Nowadays, technology is being used to improve teaching, learning, development, efficiency, proficiency and safety.

Because of the advantages of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), these technologies are finding more widespread use in the construction and heavy equipment industries. These technologies can mimic real-life situations, even those that have potentially injury-producing consequences.

Jim Colvin, president and CEO of Serious Labs, explained how these new "realities" engage trainees to advance their skills faster, safer, and more effectively than traditional methods and make it easier to grow a qualified team during his education session "Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and the Future of Work: Are You Ready for the New Realities?" at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2020.  

The Active Learning Process

“It is essential to make sure truck and equipment operators are equipped as well as they can be to be safe,” says Colvin. “There are ways of training nowadays using VR and AR that are more engaging, immersive, interesting and effective than traditional training methods. Plus, they can be used to put someone in a dangerous situation without really putting them in harm’s way.”

Moreover, he goes on, virtual reality and augmented reality applications create experiences that are impossible in any other form of training and teach through practical simulation rather than academic concepts. These technologies simulate actual experiences, yet mistakes made in simulation training does not cause any damage to equipment or injuries to personnel.

VR and AR are powerful for creating conditions for people to learn in because of how we learn, he explains. Science tells us that with passive learning, when we read something, we retain about 10 percent. Hear something, about 20 percent. See something, about 30 percent. See and hear something, about 50 percent.

With active learning, see and write something, about 70 percent retention. “But when we do something, there is about 90 percent retention. VR and AR technologies give the user a truly immersive, first-person experience in the learning process.”

Simulations Rank As One of the Most Effective Training Methods

Participants in a simulation are able to learn through performing an action in order to get to a certain outcome, Colvin says. This comes from experience and not just reading, discussion and testing. Additionally, the person can receive immediate feedback about their performance.

“One of the essential bases of adult learning theory is the experiential component. We know that adults learn better through experience. On top of this, retention of knowledge and its applications is higher with experience.

“Using simulations to deliver training is one of the most effective training methods. Simulation provides a virtual environment that mirrors actual work conditions, including workspaces, background noise and effects. Serious Labs’ VR simulators can immerse a person in a completely controlled environment wherein everything a person sees, feels and does is observed and measured. It is objective and always the same.”

Furthermore, he noted that with a simulator, “you can do a practical evaluation on a person and give them a report card on every aspect of their behavior. You can then fix any bad behavior and use the same simulator to raise their level of proficiency up higher than it could ever be when judged by a trainer with a clipboard trying to assess a person’s behavior while they are working.”

vr heavy equipmentNo Drawbacks to Virtual Environments

On the job training can be complex, dangerous and expensive, says Colvin.

With simulators, people are trained in realistic scenarios specifically for the job they will be doing on the equipment they will be operating, well before they ever have to get on the equipment.

“Engaging people can be incredibly challenging because it is difficult to keep people’s attention, especially when using traditional methods of training,” Colvin explains. “The best thing about realistic virtual environments is that we can pretty much create an experience that feels like real life, all for the purpose of training.”

Haptic feedback is critical in simulators, he adds. “If you push a throttle forward, for example, and the simulator does not respond as it would in the real word, it takes you right out of that experience and then you are not learning anymore.”

Avoiding Simulator Adoption Syndrome

One of the challenges with a virtual environment, Colvin observes, is that it causes what is called simulator adoption syndrome, also known as cyber sickness. “This causes symptoms similar to motion sickness – basically what you are seeing your body is not feeling or vice versa. That is really uncomfortable and is actually worse that motion sickness because it is more intense and lasts longer.

“With simulation training, the brain must truly believe you are where you are – at height or in a mine or whatever the situation is, otherwise you get simulator adoption syndrome.”

Data Capture and Use

With simulation training, all of the data is captured and can be presented in different forms or can be aggregated and used to be predictive about behavior so that people can be trained out of bad or unsafe behaviors, says Colvin. Additionally, the data can be used to measure competency and determine, over time, whether or not people are improving.

“Imagine having an objective report card on every operator and knowing how to move them up the food chain as far as competency.”

He says some companies are using Serious Labs’ simulation training to go to their insurance companies and saying: “My sites are healthier and safer and I can prove it, and we want to get a reduced rate on our insurance.”

United Rental is exploring this concept, he notes. It is selling training on simulators. In exchange, if all of a company’s operators get to the standard, United Rental will reduce the cost of insurance of that piece of equipment.

Verification of Competency 

VR and AR training are way different that the subjective opinion of an evaluator that assesses an operator’s skills, observes Colvin.

Data through technology can help verify that people are competent on equipment, he says. Someone in a virtual learning environment is not in a subjective situation. Technology can measure how a person reacts, their heart rate, their movements and actions, etc.

“AR and VR are going to change how we interact with each other, how we show things, how we maintain things and how we train the new generation of workers to make sure they get home safely.”

Serious Labs is an award-winning technology company that creates reality training solutions that provide safe, engaging experiences with which to train, assess and remediate. 

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