© Fotolia Tran

Immersive Technology

So real you can almost touch it

11/2018 – Virtual reality is no longer the stuff of science fiction: Deutsche Bahn has been using immersive solutions of this kind for some time now. The technology improves employee training, supports maintenance and repair, and enables more efficient planning of construction projects.

When we talk about the effect of virtual or fictional worlds on viewers, we often use the word “immersive”. As people become absorbed in these worlds, their perception of the real world decreases, and they increasingly identify with the fictional world, and they become totally immersed in the illusory world. With immersive technology, reality is either faithfully reproduced in the digital world or enriched with selected information.

A distinction is made between two variants: virtual reality (VR) is a totally computer-generated, interactive environment. Augmented reality (AR), on the other hand, adds digital functions to the images of reality captured by camera. Together, the two technologies are also known as mixed reality (MR). What VR and AR have in common is that they allow users to navigate relatively freely in their respective worlds, irrespective of whether content is displayed by data glasses or on screen. Jan Christoph Jähne, who manages the Immersive Technology venture at DB Systel, explains this as follows: “You can imagine a line with reality on the left and the entirely digital world on the right. The farther you go to the right, the more reality disappears.” This means that users immerse themselves in a virtual world where the elements from reality no longer play a role. Mixed reality (MR) is a combination of both variants.

Virtual reality (VR)
The user’s entire field of vision is covered by a virtual field of vision.

Augmented reality (AR)
The real field of vision is overlaid with virtual objects and information.

Mixed reality (MR)
This term refers to environments or systems that mix the user’s natural perception with artificial (computer-generated) perception.

Immersive technology
This technology blurs the line between the physical world and the digital or simulated world, creating a sense of immersion.

For hardware and software vendors, this immersion in a virtual reality is almost old hat. Google, Microsoft, Facebook and HTC have been working for years to enable users to immerse themselves in a digital replica of reality and interact with it via their devices. “Immersive technologies have gained considerable momentum in the past two years,” says Jähne. “On the one hand, greater computing power, better graphics and faster processes make the representation more realistic; on the other, projects can be implemented faster.” Usman Ghias, Product Owner of EVE, adds another important aspect: “Stand-alone VR headsets provide a larger customer base with access to the technology. What’s more, prices for these headsets are also falling and are today on a par with the average mobile phone.”

The Immersive Technology team at DB Systel offers one-stop access to the entire value chain for all variants. “It’s important for us to initiate the discussion from the perspective of customer value. Our vision is not just about promoting the technology. It’s also about supporting customers in the best possible way with that technology,” says Usman Ghias.

A wide range of VR and AR projects at Deutsche Bahn show that, far from being a mere gimmick, this technology improves the Group’s operational performance. For example, during training, immersive technologies are already helping employees to safely put what they have learned into practice during railway operations. But a great deal more is possible: 3D models, virtual objects and superimposed representations of reality can now support and facilitate work processes in many fields such as planning, maintenance and repair. DB Systel was quick to recognise this potential and is gradually expanding its immersive technology portfolio. With EVE Studio, for example, a virtual environment has been developed that enables bespoke customer projects to be configured from generated or pre-existing 3D data and appropriate scenarios. As a result, VR projects of this kind can be implemented quickly and efficiently.

Learning with “EVE”

With "EVE Training" employees lern necessary skills for their workplace within a virtual environment. Thus they gain convidence in their actions – especially for critical situation, which they do not experience on a regular basis.

© DB Systel GmbH

Learning applications are the focus of the Immersive Technology team’s activities, because “EVE” is used to design virtual training and education tools for employees. This brings many advantages for staff and for the Group alike. Learning content is literally much more tangible. And complicated procedures that formerly entailed training employees on site can be performed from any location. This allows colleagues with various EVE applications to learn how to couple trains, use the boarding aid on the new ICE 4 or operate a mechanical signal box, without even having to board a train. This increases capacity while saving time and money, because more employees can be trained with lower travel times and costs. But most importantly, faults in a VR application do not endanger lives and cost nothing.

Holo Assist for repair and maintenance

Mixed virtual reality glasses display animated holograms and provides valuable support for the maintenance.

© DB Systel GmbH

The use of immersive technology makes maintenance work and repairs much easier. Holo Assist guides technicians step-by-step through even complex repairs on the actual object. Augmented reality glasses display animated holograms and provide valuable targeted support during repair work. Employees no longer have to search through manuals for information when inspecting or repairing machinery. This reduces failures and safeguards staff against accidents. At the same time, it ensures that maintenance is always performed at a consistently high level, including automatic documentation of all processes. This boosts the quality and speed of implementation.

Better planning, construction and communication

A first visualisation with immersive technology of a future station. It can display the future design as well as scrolling through the modell in real time. This application was realized for the project "Smart Cities" by DB Station&Service.

© DB Station&Service

During planning of large, complex construction and infrastructure projects, people soon reach the limits of their imagination, and it becomes difficult to convince them of the quality of the initiative. For the past five years, WorldInsight has served the Group as a key visualisation tool that creates detailed computer-assisted 3D models. In conjunction with the Immersive team’s product portfolio, the solution can offer customers ever better and more technologically advanced solutions. This makes it possible not only to show what a planned construction project should look like, but also to move freely through the model in real time. Better still, when planning changes are made, the impact on required materials and costs is included immediately.

VR and AR solutions are therefore able to make even complex topics more tangible. But immersive technology is interesting not just from a technical perspective, it is also a human and cultural issue that will have an ever greater impact on the world of work in the future. These days, it’s no longer simply a matter of conveying information. For example, more meetings could be held virtually with colleagues at different real-world locations. “With AR glasses, however, it looks as if everyone is in the same room,” says Jan Christoph Jähne. And this is precisely why Jan Christoph Jähne avoids comparing his projects with computer games. “With our well thought-out and complex solutions, we want to convince all units within the Group that immersive technologies are not gimmicks but deliver genuine workplace benefits. But, of course, I’ve got nothing against them also being fun to use.”

Want to learn more about the opportunities offered by immersive technologies? You can find contact information in DB Planet (for employees only).