EXO Insights makes dangerous work safer with VRMelissa Embury - December 24, 2019
Imagine your life is at risk every day you walk into your job. Maybe you’re an engineer at a nuclear plant or a technician in a mine. Either way, your work is highly dangerous. Still, your company depends on you to operate at top performance carrying out extremely complex processes.
The stakes are high and you’re under extreme pressure. How do you make sure you’re trained to do your job correctly – and safely – every time?
That’s where virtual and augmented reality come in.
EXO Insights’s hyper-real training experience allows workers to rehearse critical tasks and put their learning to the test in a safe, simulated workplace. Their VR and AR simulations allow workers and organizations to safely fail, so they can learn from those failures and ensure they’re not repeated in real life.
It works by tapping into the subconscious mind to measure stress levels and other key biometrics like eye movement.
They look at simulation from the human performance perspective by “focusing on analyzing the challenges that humans face each day in industrial workplaces, rather than simulating machinery, allowing employees to safely learn from their mistakes,” according to their team.
Shopping for a better way to train
The journey starts in Brazil where founder Fernando Muniz-Simas grew up. He studied business and marketing management at FAAP College in São Paulo, which led to a career travelling the world studying buyer behaviour for retail supermarkets. Or as he puts it, he was “paid to broaden my cultural knowledge.”
Learning about virtual shopping, product placement and development through simulated environments led Muniz-Simas to realize that these old methods of observation were outdated. Unlike focus groups, concept tests, and other laboratory approaches, the virtual store duplicated the distracting clutter of an actual market and allowed researchers to set up and alter tests very quickly. Simulations also made it possible to eliminate much of the noise that exists in field experiments.
“During focus groups, buyers exhibit different choices and are affected by observational bias. Subjects will make choices based on how they want to be perceived. Typically people respond to how they want you to think of them. But it’s really not objective. Simulation is a way of taking away the observation bias,” he says.
“We don’t need memorization anymore. In high-risk, critical work, you need to have the right capabilities to react to situations.”
Fernando Muniz-Simas, founder of EXO Insights
Creating simulations allowed for a more realistic environment where people forget about their reality for a moment. They lose the ability to become aware of the environment outside of VR.
“The brain never loses track that it’s a simulation, but it lets go,” he says. “You are still conscious enough to make decisions but not be aware of them. Very few people have tried VR. For a lot of people, it’s their first experience and it’s this wow moment.”
Muniz-Simas started thinking about how he could take this technology and apply it to other industries. He approached a mining sector company from Australia called BHP Billiton while living and working in Chile and started using VR technology to measure how people do their work.
“Our hypothesis is it’s really not necessary to accumulate information in people’s brains because information is ubiquitous. We don’t need memorization anymore. In high-risk, critical work, you need to have the right capabilities to react to situations. So how do you train people to have the right attitude?” he says.
“What we learn over time talking to these guys during training is that they are really capable people, but we need to train judgment.”
Virtual training for real-world problems
Muniz-Simas and his team help global energy companies reach the full performance potential of their workforce.
How? EXO’s biometric VR/AR solutions transform and elevate existing industrial safety and training standards to move organizations past traditional training methods. Particularly effective in high-risk, mission-critical environments where safety and precision are top priorities, their technology measures the “how” of work, allowing workers and training leaders to improve their knowledge and work capacity.
They started with developing a patent on biometrics technology and motion sensors by adapting VR programs that were primarily used for fighter jet training.
“If we hadn’t used this, we wouldn’t be so far ahead with our vision. When we started, we bought $25,000 worth of headsets and some core biometrics,” he says.
“For a lot of people, it’s their first experience and it’s this wow moment.”
– Fernando Muniz-Simas
EXO Insights uses these biometrics to measure key factors like eye tracking and stress based on heart rate. Where they go a step ahead compared to regular training? They measure if the employee is paying attention to the right things and if they’re working under manageable stress levels.
Their goal is to teach reasoning, logic and judgement instead of training people to memorize information, so a subject can understand where they need to calm down and how to manage stress.
“Typically stress has some factors that affect you,” he says. “In the end, it’s just the same as any other training. The objective here is to make you better, and you can only be better if you become self-aware of your shortcomings.”
Muniz-Simas explained that humans are not fail-proof and need an error-inducing machine process that allows for feedback when an employee needs to slow down and identifies what areas are challenging for them.
“The objective here is to make you better, and you can only be better if you become self-aware of your shortcomings.”
– Fernando Muniz-Simas
“What was interesting about this experience is that we realized is the measurement of behaviour using virtual reality or method reality was a treasure. It’s really powerful,” he says.
And, he adds, reducing stress is key to performance.
Take the birth of his daughter, which required his wife to undergo surgery. “The anesthesiologist and the doctor, they were talking to each other. They have a way of joking that, for one from the outside, was kind of weird because these guys are so relaxed,” he says.
But in reality, they weren’t relaxed. “They are super stressed finding ways to calm their stress down because they are going into a situation that is life or death.”
It’s not just surgeries, either. “If you are going to do high-risk work the idea is – and our final objective is – to have work with no accidents,” he says.
Meditation is one of those techniques Muniz-Simas believes is instrumental in the future of stress reduction – and he’s been paying close attention to Eastern philosophies and leading meditation and mindfulness experts like The Singularity University.
“I’ve done a lot of Tai Chi, and it’s basically moving your body in one direction. You start getting relaxed and it’s the same thing as meditation. You just disconnect.”
A future without accidents
Today, EXO Insights operates with a team of 10 people plus two co-ops.
Most of their team are Canadian, but they have talent from all over the world. “I think we have a very good staple team,” he says.
They have a mix of backgrounds, too. Their R&D director is a physicist and astronomer, for example. “He’s the perfect counterbalance for me. If I come up with an off-the-charts idea, he can give me the balance,” Muniz-Simas says.
“Our team is really solid in doing background research and development. Jesse who’s the boss of development is really methodic. If we hadn’t had the right person coming from the right company at the right moment we may not have succeeded,” he said.
“If we do our jobs right, we will get closer to a fully employed workplace with workers fulfilling their lives, maintaining their families and arriving safely every day at their homes.”
– Fernando Muniz-Simas
Together, they’ve been in the Startup Visa Program through the Accelerator Centre. “The support we’ve received from the [Accelerator Centre] is instrumental. When I got here and saw how serious they take the research, I was impressed” says Muniz-Simas.
Once they graduate, they’re looking forward to being seen as an established company. Until then, Muniz-Simas says the team will continue to develop their technology.
“We feel very lucky to be able to be an active part of this living revolution in training and education taking place now. In 10 years’ time, if we do our jobs right, we will get closer to a fully employed workplace with workers fulfilling their lives, maintaining their families and arriving safely every day at their homes,” he says.
“Our final objective is to have work without accidents.”
- Name: EXO Insights
- Solution: Virtual and augmented reality training paired with biometric tracking for high-risk, mission-critical applications.
- Owners: Fernando Muniz-Simas
- Employees: 12
- Headquarters: Waterloo, Ont.
- Founded: 2010
- Initial investment: $1.8 million
- Contact: [email protected]