First-of-its-kind forklift simulator could reduce injuries, deaths
Tactus Technologies has developed a first-of-its-kind virtual reality training program for forklift operators, a product that company officials expect will reduce work-related injuries and deaths.
The program, called the 3D Forklift Trainer, allows operators to practice with a video game-like system that features a steering wheel, joystick, pedals and simulated environments such as warehouses, elevators and railroad tracks.
The simulator arose from a need to improve operator readiness, said Jim Mayrose, chief executive officer and co-founder of Tactus, which is a spinoff company from the University at Buffalo.
According to Occupational Safety and Health and Administration (OSHA) standards, improper forklift operations cause roughly 100 fatalities and more than 100,000 injuries annually in the United States.
"Until recently, such virtual reality technologies were only available to military and university laboratories," said Thenkurussi "Kesh" Kesavadas, Tactus co-founder and UB professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. "By pioneering the use of gaming technology and computers in our software, we are able to offer the 3D forklift simulator at a low and reasonable cost for industrial safety training."
Kesavadas is also director of the UB Virtual Reality Lab.
Current training typically involves a combination of classroom-based lectures, videos and observation before "on-the-job training" propels operators into the driver's seat.
"The problem is that this type of training is passive rather than interactive," Mayrose said.
Created with a grant from the National Institutes of Occupational Safety and Health, the simulator incorporates safety lessons aligned with OSHA standards.
Lesson plans require reacting to safety challenges – such as ramps, elevators and people – that reinforce the use of correct techniques. Personal profiles track trainee progress and evaluate performance. On average, it takes three to four hours to complete the simulator program.
"Companies using our product will find that they have shorter training cycles with less supervision needed and, most importantly, a safer environment," Mayrose said.
Customers will receive a full license for the 3D Forklift Trainer software, a customized computer, as well as a steering wheel and pedals. A 60-inch screen and specialized forklift-type seating is optional. A commercial version of the trainer, which features a standard warehouse environment, is also available. The program may be customized so that the environment matches that of the company.
It is available to companies of all sizes, with the first installation site at the Cummins engine plant in Jamestown.