Workplace safety is a major concern, but training to avoid accidents often involves little more than reading manuals and watching videos before getting behind the controls of a potentially dangerous machine. University of Buffalo spinoff Tactus Technologies’ 3D Forklift Trainer uses gaming technology and software to produce a virtual environment, where beginner forklift drivers can practice without racing about a warehouse in a very heavy vehicle with prongs on it.

Tactus says that the simulator is the first of its kind and fills a gap in forklift training. Forklifts are very useful things, but when they aren't used properly they can be extremely dangerous. According to the United States Occupational Safety and Health and Administration, forklifts cause 100 fatalities and over 100,000 injuries in the US each year.

This means that proper training is extremely important. Unfortunately, current instruction consists of classroom-based lectures, videos and observation, and then the student is put straight into the driver’s seat. Worse, up to getting into a forklift, the training is almost entirely passive.

The 3D Forklift Trainer takes a page from airplane pilot and military training by providing students with a virtual training environment. “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.”

The system includes not just a bit of 3D animation, but peripherals such as a steering wheel, joystick and pedals for a realistic feel while moving about simulated warehouses and loading docks. As the simulation progresses, the student is presented with safety challenges, such as negotiating ramps, elevators and people moving about. The simulation also provides positive feedback and tracks performance.

According to the company, training takes about four hours to complete. “Companies using our product will find that they have shorter training cycles with less supervision needed and, most importantly, a safer environment,” said Jim Mayrose, chief executive officer and co-founder of Tactus.

Tactus said that the system can also be customized to meet the customer’s needs.

The video below shows the 3D Forklift Trainer in action.

Sources: University of Buffalo, Tactus Technologies