By Greg Nichols
If it's a black bear, raise your arms and make lots of noise. If it's a brown bear, drop to the ground and pray.
That's the short version of any wilderness course covering bear encounters. But no matter how much hikers and campers internalize instructions, book learning tends to go out the window when confronted with a 600 pound giant.
A company from Prince George, British Columbia, thinks virtual reality is the answer, and it's part of a growing number of companies aimed at training preparing people for high-stress situations.
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VR Training Solutions has come up with a VR experience that emulates a bear encounter.
The idea is to immerse the user in a situation that requires quick decision-making with significant consequences.
"This is as real as it gets without being attacked. It is the most effective training tool I've seen," according to Dan Le Grandeur, Bear Scare Inc., a wildlife management and training organization based in Canada. "I definitely want to add this to our bear safety training programs."
The VR Bear Safety Training Program works by asking users to make critical decisions in conjunction with physical movements, which is supposed to aid muscle memory in a real encounter.
"Through the physical action within the VR, users are truly learning in an exciting, realistic environment. While wearing virtual reality goggles, the user is transported to a digital forest where the software simulates a bear encounter in the woods."
What happens then is up to the user.
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The bear encounter simulation is one of several use cases for VR involving high-risk decision making. Many police departments are training officers on situational awareness in VR environments, especially when it comes to the use of potentially deadly force.
VR has also been used by the military to simulate everything from parachuting into battle zones to medic training.
Early research into the idea of virtual reality simulation as a proxy for real-world decision-making in emergency situations has been compelling, offering several obvious early applications for the young technology.