For Matthieu Bracchetti, CEO and founder of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) agency Virtual Rangers, VR and AR-based training offer “a way of taking a boring subject and making it fun and easier to learn with gamification”.
Yet VR is a hard sell during a pandemic when you can’t “put VR headsets on people’s heads or put them in a room,” says Bracchetti.
With the market crying out for more immersive digital training, Bracchetti leaned back on what his team does best: games. He figured out a way to switch out the e-learning solutions like PowerPoint presentations, passive videos and quizzes for augmented reality and gamified content that could be accessed via smartphones. While a little unorthodox for conservative workplaces--Bracchetti describes the approach as “like Pokémon Go” for the office--the entrepreneur says that the resulting products increased engagement while lowering costs. “That’s where 30% of our revenue last year was, with this emerging market.”
Hospital evacuation training
Among the immersive training projects Virtual Rangers has already deployed in Luxembourg, some--like the AR safety course for a Luxembourg hospital--feel like a high stakes game. “You put yourself in a situation where there’s a fire next to you so that you can see every procedure to evacuate correctly. It completely changes from traditional video. You have to make the right decision, or you burn the hospital down,” he explains.
Not all are so dramatic. When we spoke in April, Virtual Rangers had just received an order for a mobile game dedicated to financial literacy training for children and young people.
“AR is definitely exploding now, with the lockdown, because everyone has a smartphone, which isn’t the case with a VR headset,” says the entrepreneur.
VR still viable
Bracchetti and his team have not completely abandoned VR and the segment continues to occupy a small niche of Virtual Rangers’ training solutions. “We worked with ArcelorMittal where we did a precise, technical crane simulator […] Before, they would train people using PowerPoint, then send them out into the field. There was a step missing,” he says.
Despite the current issues related to shared use of VR headsets, Bracchetti is confident that VR solutions will be viable in future for specific settings. In 2020, the firm’s digital training solution for hospital staff during a pandemic situation was one of 15 to be selected and receive economy ministry grants in the StartupsVsCovid19 contest for innovative solutions to combat the health and economic crisis. “It’s a pandemic simulator where you have to see how to equip yourself, how to enter a covid scene, how to do a patient triage […] It’s something that we will deploy in Luxembourg,” he says.
50% of the business
Training currently occupies 50% of the firm’s business and according to Bracchetti, “it’s literally exploded”. Digital marketing using AR, meanwhile, represents another emerging area related to the pandemic, demand for which is global.
Bracchetti will further test the wider market when he visits the US in June, with meetings scheduled in New York and at the Gener8tor startup platform in Wisconsin. The goal is to launch the hospital VR pandemic simulator as well as a ground-breaking game to distract young people undergoing painful treatments.
This interview originally appeared in the June 2021 print edition