VIRTUAL REALITY

Construction accidents are deadly in Texas Mutual's 'Safety in a Box' VR app 

The insurance company will distribute about 4,000 cardboard VR sets to view its new app.

Posted April 26th, 2016

Story highlights
  • Virtual reality is becoming an increasingly popular industry in Austin.
  • Three area construction sites were used to film four safety videos.
  • The free app debuts at the Work Safe, Texas Summit on Tuesday.

Austin-based workers compensation insurance company Texas Mutual is debuting a new virtual reality app on Tuesday to teach workers at some of its clients' sites about construction safety.

"Safety In A Box," free on the Google Play and Apple App Store, isn't a VR lecture or a classroom sim. It features live-action video of four scenarios that could cause death including an electrocution, a trench collapse, a fall from a high construction site and a cinder block falling from above.

This is not "Faces of Death," however. There's no blood and the brief video vignettes aren't graphic. But, it does use VR technology to provide a 360-degree view, which gives a more visceral feel to what might otherwise be a typical training video or safety seminar.

Contributed by Texas MutualTexas Mutual is distributing about 4,000 cardboard VR headsets for use with its "Safety in a Box" app.

The app will be shown off at the 2016 Work Safe, Texas Summit Tuesday at The Long Center where Safety In A Box-branded cardboard VR headsets will be distributed. The company has about 4,000 of the devices, similar to $10-$20 Google Cardboard, and will mail the foldable gear to its construction business clients.

Texas Mutual's vice president of safety and information services Woody Hill and senior marketing manager Jeremiah Bentley, said vignettes for the app project were filmed in February at three construction sites in Austin and Creedmoor and evolved from what was originally an animated storyboard.

"Construction is an extremely hazardous class of business," Hill said. "For us in the safety field, we're always trying to find a new mechanism to reinforce best work practices. This really takes the viewer right into the job site."

Said Bentley, "With VR, it makes it so much more immersive. You can get an experience you can't get from someone standing at a job site lecturing or from a flat video."

Virtual reality is becoming a hot industry in Austin as game studios, video-production houses and other interactive-video industries explore ways to use 360-degree video and virtual spaces for platforms including Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive, an upcoming device from Sony PlayStation and cheaper devices such as Google Cardboard and the Samsung Gear VR.

In January, Google announced it had shipped five million of its Cardboard devices. And estimates for the next 10 years suggest huge growth in virtual-reality hardware adoption, even if the short-term picture is a little murkier.

Texas Mutual executives say they hope the VR project will appeal in particular to younger construction workers and will prove instructional. The company also tried to make sure language won't be a barrier to absorbing the Safety in a Box lesson. It offers an English and Spanish version for the text shown in the VR space and the videos feature actors yelling out instructions and warnings pretty much identically in both languages.

Duane Osborne, O Studio / contributed by Texas MutualThings go badly with electricity at a construction site in the "Safety in a Box" VR app from Texas Mutual.

In the electrocution vignette, for instance, construction workers below yell out warnings as a cherry picker brings the viewer too close to a set of loose power lines. Things end badly and the cause is failing to follow proper safety practices.

Texas Mutual will weigh the feedback from this app, but Bentley said the company is hoping to do similar projects for other high-hazard industries such as oil and gas, manufacturing or businesses that involve driving.

"We hope that this works and that it comes out to be meaningful and helpful," Bentley said.

Duane Osborne, O Studio / contributed by Texas MutualProper safety at tall altitudes is addressed in "Safety in a Box," a VR app from Texas Mutual.


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