Houston company creates virtual reality to train for any danger

Tuesday, September 27, 2016
EMBED <>More Videos

Houston company creates virtual reality to train for any danger

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Monday's "active shooter" near West University Place raised concern for many who lived in the area where 9 people were wounded, either by bullets or shattered glass when the gunman trained his sight on passing cars. After the tragedy, the question was the same: "How can you protect yourself against this?"

The answer is to be aware of your surroundings, even as you go about the routine of driving on the street where you live.

And a Houston-based software company believes it has a program to train people to identify danger and escape routes.

Fuel Tech Experiential Technology is preparing to launch "Persevr," pronounced persevere. It's a virtual reality program that can transport you into an office building, where you pick up a security badge from a guard at the front desk. From there, you pass a commons area, with people talking, two of whom appear to be arguing.

The walk is called transporting, and the path leads to a glass conference room. Participants look out a virtual window at a virtual greenscape, and can become a casualty of a shooter they never see in this virtual world."

"What you do next will determine your outcome," says a recorded voice that's part of the training program.

"We make it as immersive an experience as possible," Fuel Tech CEO Oliver Diaz said. "And it's done in the context of a work environment. We've had people grab their belts, reaching for a gun that wasn't there," he said. "We've had others literally hit the floor. It's that real."

To get to the virtual world requires a pair of special goggles that prevent the real world from creeping in. There are headphones as well, for a full sensory experience.

"We can also tailor it to a client's own workplace, by taking video and then adding the scenarios," Diaz said.

"There are dangers every day," said Fuel Tech Business Director Adam Villareal. "We can do any application and not just active shooters, but any natural disaster situation we can recreate."

The company also created 3-D animation in the criminal defense trial of one of the Deepwater Horizon supervisors, who was found not guilty. The virtual reality goggles were ready to go, but the defense opted to go for the standard 3-D. It still persuaded the jury.

The benefit of the virtual reality scenario is that it makes the viewer realize how little they may scan their surroundings, which can be critical if the unexpected happens.

For example, a participant might never see an exit sign near the conference room where the virtual shooting happened. Unlike real life disaster, there are do-overs in virtual reality, with an ending where everyone escapes.

The program is in the final stages before launch.

It will be marketed to corporations, municipalities and government agencies.

Fuel Tech's lead developer is 21-year-old Bradley Boothe, who said he developed an interest in software at age 10, when he was growing up on a goat farm in Alabama.

He was discovered by Fuel Tech, and brought to Houston three years ago, where he oversees the company's virtual reality projects. "I think this is the beginning stage of v-r," he said. The goggles have cables at the moment. The advancement now is free movement, where the goggles are wireless.

"In a year, virtual reality won't look like it does right now," he said.