Pixo VR Aims to Virtually Train People Who Work in Dangerous Jobs

Imagine that you’ve just gotten hired for a job building skyscrapers. Would you rather complete your job training out on a narrow precipice hundreds of feet in the air, or in a virtual reality simulation of that work environment, where your feet could remain firmly planted on terra firma while you learn the tricks of the trade?

Royal Oak, MI-based startup Pixo VR is betting on the latter. The 10-person company, established in 2009, is using video-game-quality VR technology to create a library of training modules for people working high-risk jobs. The modules teach people how to do their jobs in sectors such as construction, nuclear energy, utilities, manufacturing, or anything else that involves dangerous or complex procedures.

“Training people with high-risk jobs is one of the highest and best uses of VR,” says Pixo founder and CEO Sean Hurwitz. “Our team is mostly made up of game developers who have taken their skill set to a new platform.”

Virtual reality, of course, is not a new innovation. However, within the past few years, VR devices such as those made by Oculus have taken off commercially, Hurwitz says. “We use an enterprise VR platform to create training modules that are more efficient and effective than anything in the market today,” he adds. “VR allows the end user to perform tasks or be put into situations that would be too unsafe or cost-prohibitive” in the real world.

Pixo’s customers—including GM, the U.S. Navy, and Cengage Learning—use its platform to bring together up to a dozen people simultaneously from all over the world to work virtually in training exercises. Trainees learn to use industry tools properly, and their managers can track their progress. By using a proprietary tool, Pixo says it can also convert CAD data accurately into VR-ready, interactive models, which is especially useful to industrial operations.

Because Pixo is still in the process of building its library of training exercises, the company is leaning on its current customers to guide content in their respective industries; in the future, Hurwitz says, in-house experts will fill that role.

Although Hurwitz wasn’t sure exactly what the potential market size would be for VR-powered training modules, he says the market for public sector enterprise software applications is expected to exceed $4.6 billion by 2020, and $16 billion by 2025. In 2016, he says, $1.8 billion in early-stage capital was deployed to VR companies, mostly to support the development of hardware.

As for competitors, Hurwitz says there are many, and they’re coming online faster than ever. He feels Pixo’s dedication to developing modules and internal tools sets it apart, and its business model is also atypical—customers pay a recurring fee to access the library of training exercises instead of paying for one-off custom software builds. Big corporations are just starting to catch wind of what VR might do for them, he says, and being able to dip a toe in the technology without a large upfront cost has proven valuable.

So far, Pixo has bootstrapped its way forward, but Hurwitz says the company is currently seeking outside investment. In 2018, the company hopes to find early adopters and learn from their feedback, as well as begin work on a mobile version of its software in anticipation of the day when smartphones will be better able to utilize VR technology.

Hurwitz started Pixo after a 17-year career in the landscape and construction industry. He initially founded the company to develop VR-based gaming, but ultimately found that work unfulfilling. Then he thought about how hard it was to train new employees in his old line of work, and how there was really no way to simulate a construction site or task.

“It hit me right away from a safety and efficiency perspective,” he says. “The team has really rallied around the idea of helping people. As the workforce gets older, and with the way the younger generation learns—there seems to be a pain point in passing knowledge from the older generation to the younger. Our technology speaks to that wheelhouse.”

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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