UPS trains new delivery drivers using virtual reality

UPS is taking a reality check at its training facilities, with virtual reality modules and headsets. (HTC)

Atlanta-based UPS announced on Aug. 15 that it will start training student delivery drivers to spot and identify and then actually experience road hazards using virtual reality (VR) headsets at nine of its U.S. Integrad “boot camp” instructional facilities in September.

UPS Integrad facilities teach students the fundamentals of driving delivery vehicles and dropping off packages using a hands-on approach. Students even practice driving UPS delivery trucks in a replica outdoor city that has real streets and sidewalks, as well as simulated delivery and pickup sites.

Information technology experts at UPS created the VR training modules that student drivers see and hear using the Vive headset produced by Taiwan-based HTC. The headsets provide a 360-degree realistic view, down to the finest details of potential road risks, such as pedestrians, parked cars and oncoming traffic. When they see each obstacle, students must identify it verbally.

"Virtual reality offers a big technological leap in the realm of driver safety training,” said UPS Chief Information and Engineering Officer Juan Perez in a company release. “VR creates a hyper-realistic streetscape that will dazzle even the youngest of our drivers whose previous exposure to the technology was through video games.”

The VR training modules replace the touchscreen devices that had been in use at UPS Integrad facilities. For now, the VR training is only for those who drive package delivery trucks. But the company is exploring VR and even augmented reality (AR) for training tractor trailer drivers and performing other duties throughout the operation.

UPS currently operates eight UPS Integrad facilities in the United States and two others in Europe. Another U.S. facility is set to open this year, bringing the U.S. total to nine.

The company boasts more than 9,000 drivers in its Circle of Honor, an elite group of drivers who have not had an avoidable accident in at least 25 years.

“This training is foundational, and Virtual Reality brings it to life,” said Jeanne Lawrence, UPS Integrad expansion director. “VR complements real-world training in a way that deeply engages our employees in the UPS Integrad curriculum.”

UPS joins Walmart in using the new technology. The world's largest retailer announced in early June that it had partnered with STRIVR, a VR startup based in Menlo Park, California, that also has worked with such companies as PepsiCo and such professional sports leagues as the NFL, Business Insider reported.