Trailer Magazine

Ahead of the curve

  • From the June 2019 issue.
Ahead of the curve

At the recent Brisbane Truck Show, Gough Palfinger highlighted an interactive training system which enabled visitors to step into the virtual reality world to operate a crane on a jobsite. The company aims to use this technology to remotely facilitate operator training and also enhance troubleshooting and repair techniques with its products all over the world.

With its vibrant orange and yellow colour scheme, Gough Palfinger always makes a big splash with its products at the truck show.

As part of the expansive Gough Transport Solutions group, the company is keen to demonstrate its ongoing commitment to complete customer care, not just in terms of the crane hardware, but also in respect of enabling clients to realise the full potential of their investment through value-added service and support offerings.

While still in the concept stage, the VR interactive display potentially represents a massive step forward in the aspect of training people to operate cranes.

Rather than the traditional method of instruction requiring an experienced operator who teaches the trainee using real equipment on a jobsite, the VR unit could be employed by organisations such as TAFE colleges who could run courses enabling students to become fluent in crane operation in the classroom.

These sort of interactive displays always draw plenty of attention from the public at shows and, like kids in a candy store, we were captivated and keen to discover more about the VR training system; even more delighted when offered a turn at the tiller!

The trainer, Dominik Hirscher, explained that the control panel –  suspended by a strap around the operator’s neck – is virtually identical to the unit used to remotely control the crane in real life operations.

“This system is designed to give people the experience of what it’s like to operate a crane,” Dominik began. “We have the original crane remote control unit which is included in the system and you can more or less dive into this virtual world when you put on the goggles.

“It looks and feels like you are really on the construction site shifting loads. Would you like to try it?”

He didn’t need to ask twice.

It was indeed something of an out-of-body experience, with the 3D goggles doing a brilliant job of tricking the brain into believing you are actually standing on the ground on a bright sunny day near the truck, with the engine idling in the background.

Other cues that bring the scene to life include birds calling and the bright green leaves on the trees gently swaying in the breeze.

Moving the controls brings the engine revs up and the crane boom and jib do their various extend/ retract, lift, luff and slew actions in a superbly realistic and life-like fashion.

The operator positions the crane hook over the load and slings or chains appear whereupon the lift can commence. As with the real deal, smooth use of the controls is paramount and a virtual ‘rap on the knuckles’ occurs if the load is made to yaw or pendulum too much due to sloppy or jerky use of the controls.

A similar warning comes up if the crane or load is made to hit the building where the load is being placed.

An interesting feature is that the person can be ‘teleported’ to different positions on the site to provide the closest vantage point when setting down the load inside or on top of a building, for example.

In one position I was standing on top of a tall building and the temptation to do a bit of ‘virtual thrill-seeking’ got the better of me. As I walked towards the edge to peer over, a grid barrier suddenly appeared in front of me and I was physically restrained from advancing any further.

Assignment completed, it took a few seconds after the goggles were removed for the brain to reprogram back to reality.

Dominik then continued with a detailed description of another Palfinger service tool known as Smart Eye.

According to Dominik, this is called a head-mounted tablet. The regulation hard hat is equipped with a camera secured to the right side. There’s a small screen and a microphone on the adjustable stalk which the operator can monitor while working.

The camera and microphone are connected to live on-line streaming meaning the person wearing the Smart Eye gear can be instructed in real time by a person anywhere in the world, who due to the aforementioned technology has the same instantaneous view and hearing ability as the wearer.

“This can be worn by a person on a worksite repairing a crane or dealing with some issue,” Dominik explains.

“The other person can be anywhere in the world and be able to see exactly what the repair person is seeing. They can also take screen shots and point out exactly what needs to be done.

“The big benefit is that the person can use both hands to work, unlike using FaceTime or something like that where you have to hold the device with one hand and try to work with the other.”

Fast Fact
Gough Palfinger displayed two forms of advanced technology at the Brisbane Truck Show: A VR system designed to train crane operators in the classroom; and Safety Eye used  to remotely provide expert advice in real time to crane repairers anywhere in the world.

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